By Laurie Zottmann
“What planet are you from?!?” My voice took on a shrill pitch that even I couldn’t stand, and everything important I had to say burst out of my mouth slimed with criticism. My husband and I were at it again.
t seemed like we had been fighting constantly since our baby daughter was born. Our brains were coated in the grime of sleep-deprivation, guilt and parenting anxiety, and we had no resources left to solve everyday grown-up problems. At a time when we needed each other desperately, we could not reach out and connect.
It turns out, we were not alone. Big transitions, like the birth of a baby, are often the trigger for a marriage meltdown. Mother of two Sue LeBreton sympathizes, “My husband and I have a joke; it should be illegal to divorce before the kids are in school, because the years up to then are just madness.” It’s enough to make two decent people get nasty.
If your relationship with your spouse is red-lining, it’s time to cool things off. Try these five steps to relieve that maddening pressure, and get yourself back into a functioning and hopeful place.
1 Time out
If you don’t have anything nice to say, retreat and regroup. Put aside more time for yourself and make sure you use it for things that help restore your calm. Take baths, do your nails, do yoga, read, run or journal. Encourage your spouse to do the same and be understanding of that time.
Done the right way, venting will blow off that dangerous pressure and make room for a more balanced perspective. Share your pain with a friend who has survived the marriage roller coaster. If things are really intense, aim the flames at something inanimate until the temperature cools: scream into a pillow, journal or write NEVER-to-be-shared letters.
It might feel weird because you feel more like raging, but the effect is powerful. Sandi Haustein, mom of two, says, “Something that helped me was a gratitude list about my husband. Whenever I was feeling frustrated, I’d take the time to sit down and think about the things that I appreciate about him. It really turned my thinking around.”
In the heat of the moment, every little annoyance can feel like a deal-breaker, but as you start to calm, you can pick out the big issue that is hollering for your attention. Ask yourself questions like, “What do I need right now that I’m not getting?” and, “What would I ask for, if my husband could give me anything?”
5 Make a wish
Pick a time that is calm, without distractions or an audience. Approach your husband, and tell him your wish as calmly and directly as possible. As if he was a genie in a lamp, just ask for what you need, like, “Honey, I really need more breaks from the kids. Can you please take them for an hour after dinner each night?” Skip right over your frustrations and go straight to your need. Be open to negotiate or problem-solve a bit to make it work.
By approaching your husband with a concrete request, you give him a chance to do what many men do best: be the hero. By resolving your frustration beforehand, you can approach him calmly and skip the criticism and defensiveness that instigate most fights.
You might be amazed at how much better you feel when he starts to pitch in, particularly if you thought he did not care. Most of the time, our husbands care deeply and want to give us everything; they just can’t read our minds.
So, the next time your marriage starts to steam, take five deep breaths and five concrete steps to release your rage, define your problem, and invite your husband to do something wonderful for you.