Ever feel like your emotional reactions are controlling your relationship? Like you’re constantly trying to avoid upsetting your partner, and when one of you does get upset, it’s really, really hard to get over it? Some couples call this state ‘normal’, but it doesn’t have to be! No one can avoid having emotional reactions (that’s a part of being human), but we don’t have to hold on to them either. Below, George and Linda discuss how getting over ourselves is one of the best things we can do for our relationships.
“I don’t understand why it’s my responsibility to get over things rather than my partner’s job not to upset me.”
Early on in our relationship, Linda and I were both involved in the so-called “growth movement”. We were deep into the “How Does That Make You Feel” approach and the “Working Things Out” approach. As a strategy, both of us tried to avoid doing the things that caused unpleasant reactions in the other person.
We became experts in what upset each other and used this knowledge to alter every aspect of our behavior. Believe me, it was a lot of effort to maintain, and it ultimately made things worse rather than better. Why? Because as we paid more attention to each other’s emotional reactions, these emotional reactions became more visible, plentiful and important. We became more sensitive to each other, finding nonexistent distress in each other’s tones and behaviors. We were like emotional hypochondriacs.
We couldn’t connect the dots at the time. The strategy we were using was popular in our social circle. Everyone agreed that it was the best way to make a relationship work. Making matters worse, we were judgmental of the couples who were not sensitive to each other’s feelings. To us they seemed like unenlightened brutes!
So what changed? We saw the possibility that we could get over our emotional reactions regardless of what it was our partners did to “trigger” them. We decided to stop worrying if one of us got upset, and we decided to stop trying to “fix it” when the other person had an emotional reaction.
The result was amazing! We realized that it was a lot less effort for us to get over our reactions than it was walking on eggshells around the person that we loved. It was a breath of fresh air that I could just be myself and not worry about what was upsetting Linda all the time. This doesn’t mean I would intentionally do things to upset her, but when she did get upset it was not my responsibility to fix it.
The Get Over Yourself Model
By requiring your partner to be in charge of your emotional state, you are not only giving them an immense, impossible job, but also disregarding your own power over your thoughts, feelings and emotional reactions. The ‘Get Over Yourself Model’ makes life easier for your relationship. You don’t have to spend time looking for your own sensitivities and avoiding your partner’s sensitivities. You can accept that getting upset, or moody, or resentful is a part of the natural ups and downs of life and doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. Rather than holding on to upsetting feelings, you can spend your time enjoying your partner’s company and relaxing into the relationship.
When you do get into an emotional reaction, it helps to notice that you have lost your bearings and that any unwanted feelings you are having are temporary. You can remind yourself that it is realistic and beneficial for you to get over your unwanted thoughts and feelings. Nothing wrong or bad is happening; it’s just a natural part of being human.
You’ll find that the ‘Get Over Yourself Model’ has a learning curve. You will get better and better at getting over your emotional reactions and returning to the well-being you had before the reactions occurred. You will also find that your emotional reactions will happen less frequently, for a shorter period of time and, most importantly, that they will take less of a toll on you when they do happen. In short, you will become more resilient.
I see getting over myself as not only beneficial to me, but in the service of the relationship. It isn’t so much giving in, as it is not letting your mind get bogged down with negativity and emotional reactions.
I used to believe that a person was committed to their state of mind and that it took time to change one’s mind. This meant that when I got upset about something, I would either need the help of someone else to get over my emotional reaction or I would have to wait a long time to feel better.
Because of this, I often relied on George’s compassion to get me over my emotional reactions. When he wasn't compassionate, I felt stuck in my negative feeling. I realized this wasn’t working for our relationship. I had to start looking at things in a different way. So I looked at the negative thoughts that were causing my emotional reactions, and I asked myself what could be done about it. Could I possibly just get over my reactions by myself without the compassion that I’d always depended on? Could it be possible that I didn't need George to be a part of my recovery?
A Different Way
I was with my seven-year-old granddaughter one day, and we were in the middle of a huge disagreement. She was upset with me because I wouldn’t buy her ice cream, and I was upset with her because she wouldn’t stop whining about it. In the middle of this heated argument, she said to me, “Grandma, let’s forget about it.” In the blink of an eye she completely changed. She went from feeling angry to feeling completely neutral, and I was affected by it. I also went from feeling very upset to feeling neutral. With a big smile on my face, I said, “Sure.” In that split second we were friends again having a really nice time and enjoying being together.
A Better State of Mind
I didn’t used to believe that a person could change their thinking mid-argument. I learned that when I am able to do this my entire relationship benefits, but, more importantly, it benefits me.
People are better at working things out through a better state of mind. Thus, George and I are always looking to get to a better feeling, not only because it feels better, but because we think better. When you feel better, you will have better ideas, better solutions and better answers. It’s just righteousness, bullheadedness and attachment to a certain position that makes getting over yourself a struggle.
People often defend holding on to their anger because they think that if they are feeling really strongly about something, then they must be right. In reality, strong feelings just mean a person is having a strong thought, nothing more. No matter the severity, any state of mind or feeling can, and will, naturally change. I have to say that there is no perfection here, but there is learning and hope.
George and I are consistently looking for a better feeling in the middle of chaos. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens enough. For example, sometimes in the middle of an argument with George, I will switch from defending myself or trying to prove my point of view, to suddenly not caring about being right. I love it when this happens because George stops being upset, and we both enter into a nice feeling. And when this happens it is much easier for us to talk through things.
If you get nothing else from this section, I would love for you to see the possibility that you can get over your emotional reactions, even mid-argument. Before understanding how the mind works, I never thought it was possible to have something change so dramatically between two people. All I needed was to see the possibility of change within my own mind, instead of looking to external circumstances and waiting for other people to change. It’s not that circumstances and other people don’t change; it’s just that I found greater happiness when I stopped looking to the outside for direction and began getting over my emotional reactions on my own.