Two years ago I was in a wheelchair and I thought I was dying. Now I’m fully mobile thanks to two successful hip replacement operations. While I’ve completely changed my diet and purged my body of toxins, my symptoms still haven’t totally gone away.
I think it’s an autoimmune problem, but I digress because I’m sharing all this to illustrate a point, and to ask the question: where is your tipping point and how much does your stress impact your relationship?
Most of us probably recognize at some level, that for our relationships to thrive we need to bring ‘our best self’ to them. That’s just another way of saying we need to contain our level of emotional reactivity, so that it doesn’t spill out onto our partner when we feel stressed.
This is what we need to know. According to research, relationships between loving yet resilient people are the ones that fair best.
We’ve all met people who are highly reactive and moan about everything. Even petty things become huge calamities. For some, a person like that becomes a ‘project’, and for others they become a pariah. It’s hard to be around someone like that and stay positive isn’t it?
Even if our tolerance for discomfort isn’t as low as theirs, we all tend to have a tipping point, a place where things get so bad for us that they do spill out and affect the relationship.
For the past 20 years I’ve been mindful of trying to ‘bring my best me’ to my relationships, and of course I’m human and I don’t always manage it, but two years ago I found myself face to face with the most perfect excuse in the world to act out, I was in constant pain and I thought I was dying! The operations I underwent were major and scary and the long-term prognosis wasn’t brilliant, surely I could be forgiven for being, moody, short, or withdrawn!
Lucky for me though, through my work, I regularly saw the impact that this emotional spillage had, both on partners, and the relationship in general, regardless of how valid and totally understandable the excuse to be reactive is.
It wasn’t lost on me that those who felt the most entitled to act out, the ones who didn’t wish to take responsibility for their behavior, recognise the toll is was taking on their partner, or use the self-soothing strategies I gave them, usually ended up alone.
At the time I was working with a couple where the wife had been battling with cancer for over two years and had just received the news that it was in remission. The very next day they came in for their second couples therapy session. The husband broke the great news to me, and then looked his wife square in the eye and said “Now that you’re better, I can tell you that for the last year I’ve wanted to leave you, and now I can.”
Shocked she asked why, and he replied “You have sucked me dry, you’ve constantly taken your moods out on me, and never once thanked me for all the support I gave you and the kids while you were ill.” I also suspected he had met someone else, but he said he hadn’t.
I realized that as entitled as I may have felt to throw myself a pity party, this generous husband of mine, who was willing push me around in a wheelchair, and this loving daughter who was so worried for me, were both just human.
I knew that if I were to get short with them due to the constant pain,
or lost in my fear due to the lack of a diagnosis, it would hurt and scare them, and no doubt impact our relationship.
What was the point in making an already terrible situation worse.
The question I vividly remember asking myself was: “Did I want to be ill and be grateful for the support of these wonderful people, or be ill and end up alienating everyone?”
Of course I chose wishing to remain supported, but for that I had to make sure that I was being support-able.
I want to share the strategy I used, in case you find yourself in a situation where you’re having trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and you want to maintain the support of your loved ones.
Firstly I prioritised my self-care. For me it meant scaling my work right back. I needed the time to research and put into place the things that would help me get to a better place in my health.
Next, I got deeply into self-soothing, prayer and meditation. I figured I needed all the help I could get. My deepening faith helped me quell much of the fear and remain calm during the scariest times and of course I definitely believe everything went so well with a little help from above. A great introduction to that, is a lovely little book ‘Hiring The Heavens’ by Jean Slatter. For any real skeptics out there check out Bruce Lipton’s Biology of Belief lecture on YouTube.
I also knew I had to keep my monkey brain in check. When something awful is happening to you it’s so easy to feel fully justified in letting those negative thoughts take you to terrible places. Just notice when it’s happening and unhook from them.
The best way I found to do that, was to stay in constant contact with all the many things I actually did have to feel grateful about, including the support of the wonderful people in my life, regardless of what was happening to my poor body.
The reason that gratitude journals work is because we can rewire our negative-biased brains to be more positive, by focusing on what we do have, or how we wish to feel, and not on what we’re lacking. And because neurons that fire together wire together, we create more and more positive neural pathways, which in turn cause us to think more and more positive thoughts. It’s a beautiful upward spiral.
It also helped to keep reminding myself that everything is temporary, and that this too shall pass. That helped me to stay optimistic and keep my sense of humour which is very important in a situation like that, as we don’t want the cortisol to win (-the fear chemical that damages your body).
I hope this has helped you if either you or a loved one is in a difficult place right now.