So how many times have you gotten angry–I mean really pissed–at your spouse? And how many times have you yelled at him, demanding that he change, that he do this instead of that, that for the love of God he stop driving you crazy.
Well, if you’re human, I’m guessing it’s happened at least once. If you’re like me, it happens at least once a week.
Cause it’s tough to balance marriage with work with house with young kids–it’s a hell of a lot of work, and before you know it, you’re falling behind in something. And when you’re feeling pressured, it’s just so darn easy to snap, now isn’t it?
But of course we don’t snap at our boss, or at that rude clerk who really could’ve used some nicer manners. We usually wait till we’re at our edge, and then we snap at the people we love the most. Like our kids. Or our spouse.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We all get pissed beyond belief. But I’m here today to tell you that your anger isn’t a bad thing, like you’ve probably been led to believe–it can actually good thing.
Because it’s a giant clue that something in your life is off track. It’s a neon sign telling you that something needs to change.
And here’s the real kicker–it’s probably not your marriage.
Yeah, you read that right.
Your marriage–or your spouse–might just be the most obvious target when something’s getting your down.
In her memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, Laura Munson dealt with a nightmare most of us hope we don’t ever have to face: her spouse telling her that he no longer loved her and wanted a divorce.
But Munson didn’t believe it. After nearly two decades with her hubby, she knew her spouse better than he knew himself. And she realized that he wasn’t unhappy with her–he was unhappy with his life.
So instead of giving in and allowing him his divorce, she decided to give him time to get his shit together. She took care of the kids and the house and let him focus on figuring what the hell he needed to do to make himself happy.
Now, I’m not suggesting you do anything this crazy. I’m just pointing out that a lot of times we blame our spouse for our misery when it could be 800 other zillion things going on in our lives. Like a sucky job, or the realization that we would’ve been happier as a veterinarian, not a salesperson.
Or maybe your crisis isn’t even anything that big. Maybe you’re just exhausted from having been up with a sick child for the past 3 nights, or you’re wishing you’d completed that big report when you still had a little wiggle room instead of waiting for the last minute.
Hey, I get it. I’ve been there, and I continue to be crazed more times than I can count. And the one thing I’ve learned while writing this blog is that most of the time I’m pissed off at Ken, it has more to do with me than with him.
Like today, when I flipped out at 4:oo p.m. because I was stuck at home with a sick kid and had fucked around all weekend when I’d wanted to use that time to catch up with work. I wasn’t mad at Gabriel, of course–the poor kid’s got croup, and is just miserable. But there was something about getting back from the doctor, then picking up Nico from school and having to balance one bouncing-off-the-wall kid with one sick kid that pushed me over the edge. Especially since I hadn’t taken care of my own stuff over the weekend.
After I’d stomped around for a bit and made life unpleasant for my poor work-from-home spouse, I finally realized what was really getting me. I was mad at myself for always putting my priorities on the back burner, for telling myself I’d finish this report after we got back into the swing of school, after we settled in with our new sitter, after I answered the latest batch of email, after I completed the last round of school meetings, after I cleaned the house, etc., etc., etc.. Which was fine until Gabriel got sick right after Nico, meaning that I lost a week and a half of work, and I suddenly found my back up against a wall.
Was this Ken’s problem? Absolutely not. And it certainly wasn’t Gabriel’s, either, for being sick.
It was mine, for not prioritizing better in the first place, and for leaving my most important projects on the back burner. It was mine for continually giving away my time and energy to people who don’t even ask for it, and for putting their needs ahead of mine more times than I can count.
Thankfully, Ken knows me well enough to know that when I’m flipping out at him, I usually need a time out to go get my shit together and figure out what’s really going on. And thankfully, it doesn’t usually take too long of a time out for me to realize it’s not Ken I’m mad at, it’s myself.
The trick, of course, is figuring out what’s important to you before you erupt like Mt. Vesuvius. Meaning that you know what your values and priorities are so that you’re not compromising them on a daily basis, like so many of us were encouraged to do in order to be a “good” kid at home or at school. And like so many of us spend our lives doing–at least until we break down and have a midlife crisis, like Laura Munson’s husband.
Let’s figure out what’s important to us now, before it’s too late.
Take-action challenge: What are your top values? Priorities? If you haven’t identified them lately, take a few minutes to write down your top 20 values. (In fact, you might want to do this every few years, as our values often change.) Once you’ve identified your top 20, take a few more minutes to whittle them down to your top 5. Then ask yourself whether or not you’re living these values, or whether you’ve strayed off course somewhere.
Super-duper take-action challenge: Once you’ve done this exercise, sit down and discuss your findings with your spouse. This is a great way of making sure that you’re headed in the same direction. If not, it’s a great way to address any potential problems now, before they spiral out of control.