Is it just us or does everyone seem overwhelmed and ragged these days?
Consider the last few days of 2021. The 30th of December kicked off with the terrifying news of the Omicron variant spreading throughout the world at record pace.
Then came the texts that afternoon asking, “Are you guys OK? Is your house on fire?" We soon learned that an ember storm was barreling down on the southern part of our beloved city of Boulder, a winter wildfire driven by hurricane force winds that destroyed around one thousand homes (you can donate here to help).
The next day, our weather turned from hundred mile an hour winds to blizzard like conditions of snow. That’s when Nate accidentally slid the car into a massive rock on the side of the road and then, later that evening, ran the snowblower over the live electrical cord running across our driveway to power a tree full of Christmas lights (luckily, he didn't get electrocuted).
So it’s fair to say that, as we begin 2022, the world feels nothing short of crazy.
And the problem with all this rapid change, fear, and insomnia-inducing uncertainty is that it leaves us searching for somewhere to vent and someone to blame. That someone is all to often, you guessed it, our partner.
We blast them for coming home late or lash out at their inability to clean the kitchen counter top not because we want to hurt them but because we need somewhere to put all this crazy.
So how can we protect our relationship from the madness of the world?
When it comes to managing our minds, awareness is the gateway to change.
Just the other day, for instance, Kaley went on a house-cleaning spree, saying things like, “Are you kidding? Do you think elves put your dishes away" and "Who’s going to tidy up the family room?"
After a few minutes of this, however, she named it. She could see that she was feeling caught by the uncertainty of the moment and using tidying the house as a way to feel more in control.
This didn’t deter her from her mission to clean the house. But it radically changed the nature of her request. This time she said, “I can feel that I’m trying to soothe my anxiety by cleaning up the house. And, can you please wash those remaining dishes?"
For Nate, this expression of awareness -- naming it -- changed everything. It shifted his response from defensiveness to genuine care and compassion -- i.e. he did those dishes.
Appreciation always works to brighten the spirit of a relationship. But it’s especially important now. When systems get strained, when we’re stressed, when it’s not even clear whether our child will have in-person school, we revert to what neuroscientists call the “negativity bias" of the brain. We see all of life, especially married life, through the lens of criticism and complaint.
Appreciation represents an interruption of this habit. It’s flipping the glasses we ordinarily wear. And when things get crazy, it offers each partner a reminder that, in the end, no matter how crazy life gets, you can still name and cultivate the deep love you feel for each other.
We’ve noticed a common theme in most couples: the more serious you become, the more you bicker, fight, and argue with each other. Conversely, the more you can laugh at the absurdity of life, the more easily you can experience connection and intimacy.
Of course, much of what is happening in the world right now isn’t exactly funny. And yet, we can all find those moments throughout the day where things get so crazy, so insane, that the only sane response is to lighten the mood and laugh together.
If you want to go all the way, share your moment with us on Instagram (@8080Marriage). The more we smile together, the better these days.