Murphy’s Love: Love, Actually

DEAR STACY:

We just had our first baby and I have zero energy for anything. My husband and I are fighting all the time. I have a sharp tongue when I’m angry, and it hurts his feelings. After the argument is over, I usually realize that I jumped to a conclusion or was overreacting to whatever he had said or done. I feel so guilty but I am able to admit when I’m wrong. I apologize and we move on. But I would really like some tips on how to keep from getting so angry in the first place! We never used to be like this. Things used to be very simple when we disagreed about anything. But these fights always seem to take place in the middle of the night, when our son is up screaming. I don’t want to keep having the same argument all the time. What can I do?

– Suffering and Sleep-deprived

DEAR SUFFERING,

I know it’s cold comfort at this point, but we’ve all been there. Anyone who has brought a child into a once-simple household and seen the almost immediate carnage can relate to your situation. We also can tell you that this, too, will pass. Okay, enough with the unhelpful clichés.

You are asking for tips on being less reactive in the moment, a moment which usually takes place in the middle of the night, obviously without the benefit of a fully-rested mental state. My first tip is: Please don’t expect too much of yourself under those circumstances. If you can muster a little self-empathy it will go a long way to helping curb your reactivity. Next, try to notice what happens in your body when you start to get angry. Does your breathing get shallow? Do you feel tension in your neck or stomach? Make a mental (or physical) note of these indicators so that when they appear, you will know what is about to happen and you may be more capable of getting a handle on your anger before you lash out.

Next, breathe — humor me and just do it. With practice, deep breaths (instead of nasty retorts) can become your automatic reaction to when you feel your body start to tense up. This process will clear your mind, or at least help you bridge to the point where you can see if you might be jumping to that wrong conclusion.

Then mirror what your husband is saying. Give it back to him, word-for-word, without interpretative voice inflection or attitude, and ask, “Did I get it?” This serves two purposes. First, it lets him know that you heard him, calming his own anxiety in the moment while making him more receptive to your views. Second, it allows him to hear what he said — he’s likely sleep- deprived as you are, and we all say things we don’t exactly mean at those times. Your husband can hear what he said, pause and decide if that’s really the message he wants to send. He can revise it or not, but I promise you he will be less defensive if you use this technique.

All of this is to help de-escalate the conflict in the middle of the night. Mirroring will not solve a disagreement about co-sleeping or how many blankets Baby needs. But it will buy you some time, and build up some goodwill between you. This will help avoid the tired routine of recognizing you were wrong, feeling guilty, and apologizing the next day, when it’s even more likely that you haven’t had much sleep again, either.

DEAR STACY:

My husband got a new cell phone and started using a passcode to open it. He didn’t keep his old phone locked this way and I never found anything to worry about when I looked through it, but now I am starting to be suspicious. What should I do?

–Phone-Focused

DEAR PHONE-FOCUSED,

So you have a habit of reading Husband’s texts and emails when you start getting suspicious about him, and now you are frustrated that you can’t get a quick fix to calm your anxiety? I wonder ... Could this habit have something to do with his decision to get a new phone?

We don’t know from your letter if Husband’s job requires him to lock his phone (many do) or if you have talked to him about your doubts (probably not). What you do provide is some insight into how you may be managing your anxiety about your relationship: you check up on him and then breathe a sigh of relief. His new technology has removed this coping mechanism, and so you need a new one. Let’s celebrate that you wrote to me requesting relationship advice, and not to a techie forum requesting tips on how to hack into his device. That shows you are interested in improving your partnership overall — a very good start!

I’m going to invite you to do a very honest inventory of whether you have a good reason to be suspicious about his activity. If he has been unfaithful before, how did you get through it? Did you work on your relationship together, or push the hurt and disaffection under the rug? Consider airing it out again (for best results, with a trained professional).

But if Husband has not given you a concrete reason to be distrustful, continue your honest inventory by looking at yourself — your history, parents, friends, etc. If you are worried that Husband could become a jerk like So-and- So’s ex, perhaps you could explore your fears in a manner that is more healthy and life-giving than playing Nancy Drew.

Whenever we find ourselves doing something unconscious (which is what all that phone- patrolling really is) to allay our fears about a relationship, the faster and easier path to wholeness usually is becoming conscious about our motivations. Not an easy choice, but much more satisfying in the end. ★

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.stacymurphyLPC.com, and you can follow her on twitter @ StacyMurphyLPC. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacy@georgetowner.com.

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Thu, 2 Oct 2014 08:26:23 -0400

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