The other evening as my husband talked, a resentment rose up in me for his way of coping with a potentially stressful situation. In my eyes, his coping formula sometimes equals the ‘duck and dive’ method and I had some serious judgement about his avoidance. Inside my head, I heard myself saying things like “deal with it hubby, because if you don’t it’ll be me left dealing with this. Again. And I’ll be stuck!” I began to argue with him that this could simply not be the case this time.
As I made my impassioned statements, I could feel my ire rising. It seemed the more I dug in, the angrier I got. But, for me, the worst of this was an increasing sense of hopelessness. My pleas were falling on his deaf ears. All he could hear was my anger, and I was certain he was feeling that I was trying to control things. My hopelessness came from knowing that no matter what I said, I would lose. I would lose the fight or I would lose an important connection with him because of the fight. It felt desperate! Then, in that moment, I heard a tiny wee voice in my head quietly saying to me “stand in your own discomfort.”
Years ago, the idea that I could just stand there, and not do anything was a novel revelation to me. I had stumbled across a quote that read simply “Don’t just do something, stand there”, and it had struck me with such intensity that I had actually written it in sharpie on my bathroom wall. For me, there was something right and true in it, and also very foreign and scary. In that moment with my husband, I could have easily blocked out that wee wise voice and held on to my familial roots which are very much of the “lock and load” variety. However, I’ve been training, and so I not only heard it but gave it permission to be there. So, I ended the conversation with my husband as gracefully as I could and headed out the door with the dog for an evening walk to think.
I’ve been practicing sitting in my own discomfort with what Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron calls ‘The Bourgeois Problems’. Pema advocates that we work with the little annoyances in life, those things that trip us up, and over which we have no control – like the guy in front of me who is driving too slow, or when the restaurant I’m at doesn’t have the kind of food I want to eat. The idea is that if we practice staying present with ourselves when life throws us little curve balls, we’ll be better equipped to cope with it when life throws bigger stuff at us. It’s akin to the idea of 10,000 hours of piano practice to become a master pianist. And I don’t know about you, but life throws me curve balls sometimes and I am in no way able to control most things.
I know I especially cannot control my husband! To be clear, since the beginning of our relationship my husband has been articulate that he doesn’t like me to try to control him. He’s often said, “I’ll be more willing if you ask me rather than tell me to do something.” The asking part by definition states his right to say “No” to me. So, I’ve been trained in knowing I don’t have control over him, and for this I appreciate his clarity.
On the dog walk, I was only about 200 steps from my door when I realized that my frustration was because I was volunteering to clean up any mess that was created by his potential ‘duck and dive’ method and (here’s the sweet part!) that I could simply chose not to volunteer! Additionally, I realized that when I clarified my own priorities, I was fine, and everybody was, in fact, fine. Further yet, the feeling of anger stemmed from an old trust wound of mine and wasn’t actually about my husband at all!
Now, let’s be clear, Pema states ‘stand in your discomfort’ and I went for a walk, so by very definition in no way did I stand in anything. I walked it out. But for me, this is a success. My stuckness was gone and I saw ease and freedom available to me as a brand new gift. I knew that letting him be himself was easier than me fighting for him to be something different, and I came home feeling clear and full of love for my lovely husband of mine again.