During my month off the internet, I tried to do a lot of things: start a podcast, create a Patreon page, work on offline projects, reconnect with friends and family, and especially, learn more about being a husband and a partner to my wife.
A lot didn’t go well. Especially since my wife and I are learning so much about each other on a daily basis. This is our first year of marriage and living in the same place for 8 months is the longest we’ve ever had since we met in high school in 2006.
I have discovered a level of stress I didn’t know I could arrive at.
I had to face the fact that reading about all self-improvement and relationship content wasn’t going to cut it. I had to apply the lessons in my life.
What follows are observations from my own stress-related productivity flaws and what I am learning to get better at on this journey of living and growing.
Some level of stress is necessary to improve productivity. But beyond that, productivity diminishes. I noticed my attention waning and getting stuck in pockets of time where I was neither able to create nor consume.
The emotional stress from being in disagreement or fighting with my wife takes a toll on me. I’ve learned from trial and error that the best way to keep my mind healthy and stay productive was to address the stress.
I don’t know if there’s any universal way: meditation, taking a break, doing something that has nothing to do with my wife, or work, taking a walk, watching something inspiring, etc.
For me, it’s a combination of both that tends towards having new experiences that may or may not have added to my work or relationship at the time.
Stress is a general term. My father often likens it to air in a tire: with too much, the tire pops, with too little the tire flops. With just enough, it works.
I believe stress is necessary. I notice that when I give it a different perspective, it helps.
Anxiety can be turned into hope.
Pessimism can be turned into pragmatism.
Fear can become caution.
I think the very first step is to identify the feelings associated with the stress and sit with them. It’s hard when the person who triggers the feelings is one you know you love.
If one is stressed, it means there’s an emotional reaction we’re not yet addressing. And if not properly addressed, it either spreads or is bottled up and can 10X.
Or worse, 100X and cause a nervous breakdown.
It has happened too many times between my wife and me: a simple conversation spirals into an argument whose tail we can’t make from the head. Often one of us has to back down.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve carried my own weight of the silence during critical times.
We are emotional creatures. We cannot stop ourselves from feeling.
Unfortunately, we never learned from birth how to handle our feelings and we often react where we should respond.
I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Two people in a stressful situation, under ideal circumstances, could react in the exact same way.
Let’s take a banal example: a conversation goes wrong in a bar and someone says: ‘fuck you asshole!’.
The two men (or women 😅) stand and everyone can see that they’re ready to fight.
They’re both stressed. Angry. Drunk, maybe and unable to let go of ego.
A reaction = a fight. It may even lead to death because of bottles or just punches. Or maybe the police get involved in it and someone now has a police record.
Long term consequences to short term stress.
A response = it only takes one of the men (or someone else in the bar) to realize that tension is mounting. Someone has been insulted and feels hurt. A fight in a drunk state could lead to worse. However, they choose to avoid the fight (talking, or taking one man away, or making a joke or bringing a sandwich between the two men like in that viral video).
A reaction to stress is primal. Action → reaction.
Angry → Punch.
A response to stress is calculated.
Angry → blood boiling → noticing that one is angry → choosing what to do with the anger while considering the consequences → Action:
Play video games and kill virtual enemies, punch a bag, run and use adrenaline, carry a cute baby, watch cat videos.
Write on Medium 🙂
But when it comes down to it…to the ‘how’, it takes deliberate practice.
Some days, my wife does an amazing job at stepping back and realizing that we may have been fighting over something that has nothing to do with whatever we think we’re fighting. She may even let me vent because she can see that at that time, I am full of emotions and feelings.
I can be such a child sometimes.
Some days you’ll do great and have a handle over everything. Some days things will suck and you’ll feel like you know nothing (Jon Snow).
But every day you reach your limit and get aware of the fact that you’re either reacting or responding, you’ll get better at it.
Pay attention to yourself. From your breathing to your instincts, to your gut reaction.
Learn what makes you react, who makes you react, how you feel about what and why.
I don’t know if there’s a hack for this. If there is, it’s called ‘living’.
You’ll learn. You’ll lose. You’ll laugh. But most especially, you’ll live in the moment because that’s what happens when you get better at paying attention.
We’ve really gotten better at this whole marriage thing. We each see a therapist and a marriage counselor. I still study hard because I know how much I have to learn ( or unlearn) to be a better husband — and human.
Stress is part of life. So is progress.
I realized that when we focused on handling our internal stressors and responding to each other rather than reacting, we became more aware of how the other acted.
For me, it became easier to realize that yes, I may have said something really stupid, but sitting in the guilt wasn’t going to change the situation.
I also learned that yes, my wife may have said something that triggered me but not addressing the situation at hand and pouting wasn’t going to make it go away. If anything, if I didn’t let go of my ego and address the situation while it was in the open, I would be making sure that it would repeat in the future and compound as we weaved webs around our thoughts of each other.
Addressing my relationship stress allowed me the mind and freedom to focus on my work stress which was on a different scale and wasn’t as emotionally draining as misunderstandings with the woman I chose to spend my life with.
The more I do this, the more I realize that we’re really all just trying to figure out this life thing and the least we can do for each other is to come to the table with compassion and empathy.
“If you want to change people’s minds, you need more than evidence. You need persistence. And empathy. And mostly, you need the resources to keep showing up, peeling off one person after another, surrounding a cultural problem with a cultural solution” — Seth Godin