Miscommunication can start in any number of ways. And vacation plans, while they may be fun to think about at first, are one of the most common situations in which we get mired in misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and resentful irritation. I’ll tell you a story about a couple who experienced this, and how they got out of it.
A few days before it was time to leave on their dream vacation, one partner became quite sick. The other was disappointed but had the generosity of spirit to be supportive. He offered to cancel and reschedule the trip. He said it would be fun to just take it easy, snuggle, and watch TV. Sounds like a great alternative, right? He was disappointed but shifted to thinking of his partner’s needs and easily overcame his disappointment.
The Temptation of a Trigger
Even after we have let go of our attachments, they have a way of circling back around to grab us. Actually, we’re the one doing the grabbing, but it doesn’t feel that way!
This guy was happy with himself for coming up with a loving solution. But then he mindlessly began wondering aloud, in front of his sick partner, about how he “might take time off by myself” during their snuggling weekend. He was envisioning a short drive to get out of the house for a bit. But he didn’t say that, exactly.
Because he was off in his own world, distractedly imagining his time off, he made two mistakes in communicating his idea to her:
• He didn’t ask, “Would it be okay with you if I went for a short drive to get out of the house for a couple of hours?” Instead, he told her he was planning to do that. “Their” plan suddenly became his plan.
• Secondly, he hadn’t described his “time off” idea at all clearly. His partner assumed he preferred to be away from her and hadn’t really meant it when he proposed a snuggling weekend together. That wasn’t what he meant at all, of course. (I’ve been down this road myself a few times. Don’t even need GPS for the trip.)
Reactivity was causing the temperature to rise –– for both of them!
His wife made her own mistakes:
• She translated her understandable sadness about their cancelled vacation into negative self-judgment and began blaming herself: “I’ve ruined our plans.” Even though she was ill, she forgot to focus on giving herself kindness and care.
• Lost in self-blame, she concluded that she “deserved” to be betrayed. Then it was easy for her to mistakenly believe that despite his proposal of a snuggly weekend, her husband wanted to go off by himself and have fun without her.
Attaching negative, self-judging stories to innocent feelings is a mistaken thought process we all fall into sometimes. And it unfailingly leads to needless suffering. Such self-attacks blocked this woman from remembering that we all deserve self-kindness and encouragement, and then being kind to herself.
We justify such attacks by blaming our feelings (“I’m weak, not good enough, etc”). And in this case, she also blamed her innocent illness for causing something bad to happen (the missed vacation).
As a result, her partner’s mention of “taking a short time off” instantly morphed for her into a mountain of rejection and betrayal.
Getting from Turmoil to Harmony
Both people were too speedy in their thinking to share deeply about their thoughts and feelings at that point. Neither one stopped to check out their assumptions against the other person’s perspective, to find out if their assumptions were accurate. This is one of the main ways we inflate harmless circumstances into giant problems!
Her speedy thinking took over and she quickly spun into a deeply hurt state, assuming her husband didn’t really care about her and was going to abandon her. And he was hurt and angry at being accused of not caring because he knew that wasn’t how he felt or thought, at all.
They triggered some very strong reactivity in each other, and for a couple of hours they both became very difficult people! Thankfully, they had worked previously with some of my methods for resolving conflict and were able to use those to clear the air and restore harmony.
Here’s what they did:
1. They stopped to breathe and feel their bodies and feelings, and that slowed down their minds
2. They unhooked the judgmental stories attached to their feeling states, thus heightening their awareness that feeling states are the vibration of our very being. They extracted themselves from living in their imagined story and came back to being fully alive in the present real world.
3. They softened their regard for themselves and regained respect for their miraculous, tender living being. (Awareness of our feeling states, free of judgmental stories, naturally gives rise to kind regard for ourselves and others.)
4. They shared their feelings and concerns with each other, free of blame or guilt.
5. They listened with empathy which restored their respect for their shared humanity.
6. They recognized that all the drama of fear and hurt they had been experiencing was unnecessary negative imagination –– vivid yes, but not real.
By bringing awareness to their patterns they were able to transform them relatively quickly.
Most of us can identify with this couple’s exchanges and the reactive patterns they illustrate. When our patterns operate outside of our awareness, they can create havoc without us realizing it until it’s too late and the damage is done. We needlessly make small stuff into a big hairy deal and then suffer the painful consequences. No illness can ruin our vacation as well as a simple misunderstanding can!
You don’t have to keep getting stuck in old patterns either.
Working with couples to clear confusions just like these has inspired me to focus my upcoming June-July webinar on how to understand and dispel the common themes of reactivity. In The 4 Effortless Ways to Regain Balance and Joy you’ll learn four powerful yet easy ways to avoid wasting time in needless strife and confusion. Join us!