Warning: naughty language ahead!
The other day, Kris and I were in the car, bickering and nitpicking at each other for silly shit.
I was thinking, “Damnit. I’m about to start my period. I know that’s why I’m testy and he’s annoying the fuck out of me. I feel sort of helpless—there’s nothing I can do about the hormone surge that’s causing me to feel this way. I just wish he could be positive and agreeable and extra loving and supportive.”
And you know what? It hit me so hard: I need to say all of this out loud to him. How else would he know? What was I expecting—for him to read my mind and say the right thing and do the perfect thing?
Yes, I was.
Did I want him to intuit where I was at and telepathically understand what I was going through and automatically adjust himself to the perfect setting?
Yes, I did.
That is a completely unrealistic expectation. Yet, we all do it. All day long, all the time, with everything. So we live our lives in this constant cycle of frustration—wishing people could “just know” what we are going through, feeling misunderstood, and being constantly annoyed at the things people say and do. It’s like we’re a toddler having a tantrum, but trapped in an adult body.
We see this time and time again. Grown-ass people being upset about stuff that makes them sound like they’re back in high school:
Why didn’t he invite me?
Why didn’t she call me back?
Why hasn’t he responded to my text?
This isn’t specific to dating. We do this with our spouses, friends, and family. It’s a shit show of gossip and hurt feelings like we’re teenagers. Even though we’re grown adults.
To move beyond this, we must get to a place where we’re operating from the present instead of existing in reaction mode. Only then will you have the clarity to recognize when something is a trigger of yours, and when someone is actually treating you like shit and you need to set a boundary.
For most of us, the first thing that gets in our way is that we are not able to identify our feelings or our needs, let alone tell other people about them. Or maybe we’re halfway there—we know how we feel, but we’re not going to let anyone else know. That would make us vulnerable. We know what we need, but either don’t know how to ask for it because, again: vulnerability, or we feel selfish asking for help.
Think about it: if you have a fight with your partner (or friend or mother or whoever) that goes unresolved, where do you think that emotion goes? It doesn’t disappear into thin air. It is stored in your body, not to mention that you’ve built another trigger. Next time you have a fight, not only are you dealing with the issue at hand, you’ve also got the energy from the previous unresolved fight. Can you see what a debilitating web this will weave? You can’t be present if you’re carrying suitcases of old shit around with you to each moment. Those suitcases will get bigger and bigger and continue to cripple you if you let them.
You know what I ended up saying to Kris in the car that day?
I said, “Hey. I’m about to start my period. That is totally why I’m testy and you are annoying me. I feel kind of helpless—there’s nothing I can do about the hormone surges and it just sort of sucks. What I need from you is a lot of extra love, and it would help the situation even more if you could be super positive and agreeable and extra supportive.”
Guess what happened next?
He immediately softened, seeing that it wasn’t anything he was doing. I’d told him what was going on so he felt much less helpless. The direction and suggestions I had given him were helpful, and he felt more on top of the situation. He immediately regained his masculine direction, which helped me relax into my feminine space. The mood totally shifted, the energy changed and we had a lovely evening together.
Even though transparency is the name of the game in our relationship, and we’re both good at expressing ourselves, it’s still a practice, sometimes a daily one.
Take, for example, the other day when Kris came home from a long day at work and was stuck in traffic on the way home. He felt frazzled and deflated. I’d had a relaxing and productive day at home so I was in a much different place. I’d waited for him to come home so that we could make dinner and have a nice evening together. He came in the door, barely looked my way and flopped down on the couch. He said that he’d had a crappy day, needed some time to shake it off and reset, and wished food would just magically appear. I snuggled up to him and told him to watch some Top Gear clips and that I would make dinner.
That simple gesture immediately softened him and we had a nice, relaxed evening together. Instead of being annoyed with each other or bumping heads because we were on different wavelengths, we instead chose to communicate. He said how he was feeling and what he needed, and I had empathy and was happy to oblige.
The learn-how-to-express-your-feelings bit comes up a lot within the cliché situation of a stay-at-home mom and a working dad. You’ve heard it before: the mom complains about the dad coming home from work and needing to “put his feet up.” She’s mad at him for not immediately relieving her. Doesn’t he know that she’s frazzled after a long day wrangling their small children?! So, the dad sits and the mom seethes and they both drift farther apart from each other. The cycle continues and it ultimately gets worse.
What would change if the two parents told each other how they felt and what they needed? Neither of them knows what it was like to spend a day in the other’s shoes. Neither one of them knows what the other needs. And instead of finding out, they just sort of co-exist while silently resenting each other for not being able to mind-read and be the perfect partner.
What if mom had said this: “You know what? I love being a stay-at-home mom, but these long days with the kids really take it out of me. I don’t get a moment alone, I’m either breaking up a fight or cleaning up poop or making someone food, or organizing an activity. I’m ‘on’ all day long and it’s exhausting. Plus, I miss you and I can’t wait for you to get home every day so I have another adult to talk to. I wish we could both stay home with the kids and you didn’t have to work so much. What would be super helpful for me, and what I need, is for you to embrace me when you walk in the door, ask me how my day was, and then entertain the kids for a minute so I can have some time to decompress.”
The dad could say the same thing. What if he said, “My days at work have been long and stressful lately. I wish I could work less and spend more time with you. When I get home, I’m still transitioning from being ‘on’ at work all day into being the relaxed dad version of me who’s at home with my family for the evening. I also need a minute when I first get home. I need to get out of my stuffy work clothes, greet the kids, and shake off the work day. What can be our new evening routine so we all get what we need?”
What a revelation.
The biggest thing that suppresses our feelings is that most of us are ashamed that we even feel them. We feel like we should be able to rise above it, not let it affect us so much, and take care of our emotional well-being on our own.
This is an unrealistic expectation we place on ourselves, and it’s avoidance. We’re trying to just ignore the feelings until they disappear, or we’re trying to find a way to distract ourselves. The quickest way to dissipate a feeling is to identify and just move through it instead of trying to get around it. If you try to ignore it, you’ll be stuck spinning your wheels in the mud.
There’s a string of unhealthy emotions that spring up as repercussions to not expressing ourselves or asking for what we need. It will lead you to feeling:
Are you feeling overwhelmed at where to start with all of this? Try practicing these steps:
>> When you feel an emotion, try to identify it. Put a word to it. I feel happy/sad/rejected/angry/joyful.
>> Welcome the emotion, whatever it is. Don’t try to change it. Just sit with it.
>> Say it out loud. I feel: _____.
>> Peel back as many layers as you can and try to find the root, identify your trigger.
>> Ask for what you need. Say it out loud: I need a hug. I need you to listen. I need some alone time. I need to feel validated. I need help. I need _____.
If you put this into practice, it will soon become fluid and you’ll find you’ve freed up so much emotional energy. In that space will be room for more joy, more love, more creativity and more passion.
Author: Katie DiBenedetto
Image: via Mari Andrew on Instagram
Editor: Catherine Monkman