Moods are Contagious
Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40
Joy is contagious. So is crabbiness. In a previous column, we addressed How to Help Your Partner Calm Down. As we approach the stresses of the holiday season, we focus on how you can maintain your own emotional balance when your partner is having a tough time.
First, let’s be clear that we are talking about withstanding the normal emotional ups and downs of life. If your partner is physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive, even the slightest irritability can be terrifying, and you probably live in a chronic state of (perfectly reasonable) anxiety about your partner’s moods. If your partner suffers from a major mood disorder such as bipolar disorder or major depression, you need as much support as you possibly can get, just to withstand the intensity of those moods.
In the realm of everyday stress reactions, however, your goal is to hang onto your own good cheer when your partner won’t or can’t. It’s easy to react to anger or tension with more anger and more tension, but it doesn’t do either of you any good. Since none of us are saints, we will probably react badly from time to time. However, here are a few tips to help you navigate troubled waters:
• Stop and breathe. This may sound too simple, but just pausing and focusing on your breath can be very helpful in maintaining your emotional balance. In fact, there is an app for that! It is called Breathe2Relax, and while it was developed for combat veterans, anyone can use deep breathing as a calming tool. You can learn more at http://t2health.dcoe.mil/apps/breathe2relax.
• Take a break. Don’t stomp off in a huff, but find something to do elsewhere for a little while. A walk, a household chore, or even a few minutes of quality time with your pet can restore your good mood.
• Recognize when the argument is not really about anything at all. If your partner is just having a bad day, suggest postponing the discussion to a specific time in the future (so it doesn’t seem as though you are avoiding the topic) or ask if you can just agree to disagree.
• Start over. If you or your partner woke up “on the wrong side of the bed,” realize what is happening and say, with a smile, “Can we just start over? Good morning, Sweetheart!”
• Offer to help. Being overwhelmed is a prime cause of stress, frustration, and crabbiness. When you pitch in, your partner may realize once again that you are both on the same team.
• Give each other some grace. Everyone deserves a little Grumpy Time occasionally. Shift your attention to something else instead of ruminating about how wrong, wrong, wrong your partner is. Breathe, smile, and speak pleasantly. Perhaps the storm clouds will break.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."
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