It was the middle of the 2015 blizzard affectionately referred to by Marylanders as “snowmaggedon.” Naturally, my husband and I felt it was a good idea to schlep our three kids through three-feet-deep snow on a three-mile-round-trip hike. Good sledding hills are an important part of childhood.
My husband noticed the lips of my ever-cheerful smile were blue and chattering and offered me the extra layer of his snow pants….Well, okay maybe that’s not as true as he-heard-his-wife’s-shrill-and-incessant-whining-and-wanted-it-to-stop.
“Here, you can have my snow pants,” he shouted over the roaring wind.
“No thanks,” I answered, maybe forty times, with increasing volume as my husband took his pants off anyway.
“Nooooo! I f@#ing told you nooo! I am not wearing your goddamn pay-unts, okaaaay!!!????” A little snow vibrated off the nearby trees. Neighbors for miles turned down their TV volumes to hone-in on the potential violence occurring in the wilderness. Scavenging rodents cowered and scampered back into their holes. My children looked up at their wild-eyed mother and gasped. My voice echoed back from the hill, and then there was a puzzled and fearful silence.
My husband tied his now-removed snow pants around his waist and grumbled, “I was only trying to help.”
I was shaking with anger and my voice was hoarse.
“Crazy” moments. We all have ’em once in a while. But, if we ask ourselves one important question, not only do we stop the damning cycle of self-judgement and self-condemnation that makes these moments worse, but we can move toward constructive resolution. Yah!
That important question, asked by cognitive therapists everywhere and asked by myself the evening of Snowmageddon is, “What story are you telling yourself about that upsetting scenario?”
Yes. What story. Because, we cognitive behavioral therapists know well that everything we experience in life gets filtered through our assumptions, our automatic beliefs, our fears, our raw sensitivities, and our “shoulds.” And those all blend with the actual facts of the situation to sometimes concoct a whopper of a story.
For me, my story was “My husband NEVER listens to what I want. He only wants to look good in front of the neighbors (yah. Did I mention our neighbors were nuts enough to also agree to this treck with their kids in tow?) and solidify his own identity as the rescuer without ACTUALLY LISTENING TO WHAT I EVEN WANT!”
So upon this revelation, my husband said something like, “I really do care about you- I was just raised much like the overly-polite Japanese culture, where people ceremoneously decline help even though they want it. I will take what you say at face value next time.” And through tearful hugs, I repeated “I know; That wasn’t fair of me to mischaracterize you because my role as the low-maintenance-yet-over-controlled kid made me extra sensitive to not being heard. I’m sorry,” and a warm light emminated from our embrace and the theme song from Full House began softly playing in the background.
Just kidding. We went back and forth, discussing it on-and-off for a couple days, explaining the weird stories we each told ourselves through our respective filters. But, as is the case with almost any moment of “crazy,” the question “what is the story you are telling yourself?” keeps the conversation on the constructive track.
So, whether it’s anger about your kid not doing his homework (story: he’s destined for a life in a cardboard box. ??), frantic outrage that your spouse leaves his towel on the floor (story: if he really cared about me, he’d pick it up. ??), or a moment of Snowmageddon terror, try to ponder the answer to this this simple question.
Just something to think about, as usual, from the therapist that put “crazy” in quotes because when you really think about your own filter of past experiences and sensitivities, fears and beliefs, there really never is crazy, only completely understandable albiet sometimes beneficial to challenge.
Okay. This. — I absolutely relate to your frustration of your husband not listening to you and insisting that you take his pants. My husband’s entire family is that way — when you sincerely decline their offers (a jacket, nasty-ass crab salad, any food item) they assume you’re being polite but really want what they’re offering but don’t want to be a bother. If I’m completely honest, my family is that way, too. However…I have spent the last 20 years de-programming myself of that bullshit and am very direct. If I want something I ask for it and if I don’t want something I say so. Nothing gripes me more than having to decline something over and over and over because it feels like I’m not being heard, and it makes me feel like a child. Well, good for you and your husband for being able to recognize where it comes from and for being able to move forward. I can’t say that has been the case in our household — mostly because my husband has little insight and little desire to develop any, but I’m happy to hear that it happens in other marriages.
Thanks for reading and for the comment about relating! And “nasty ass crab salad” made me crack up!