It all started innocently enough. My wife Christie, late for work and facing the chilling temperatures that have recently hit the Pacific Northwest, asked me to move my car.
“Why?” I snapped, feeling anxious, hurriedly preparing for work myself.
“Because I need to get into the garage to get some things,” she said, obviously frustrated.
“You don’t need to snap at me,” I said shortly.
“You snapped at me first,” she said.
“No I didn’t,” I said, feeling increasing irritated.
“Can you please move your car?” she said. “I don’t want to argue over this.”
“Sure,” I said. “But I still don’t like how you’re talking to me.”
“And I don’t like how you’re talking to me. But I need your car moved or I’m going to be late for work.”
Feeling angry and put out, I stomped down our snowy stairs to move my car. By now I had just begun thinking one of my own favorite rules: It takes longer to think than it does to feel, so go slowly.
What had happened? Why had this morning started so poorly? What was there to learn from this situation?
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, up to your eyebrows in challenging feelings before your brain had even kicked into gear. Overwhelmed by troubling emotions, making comments you later regret, you don’t realize what occurred for hours. By then the damage has been done. These are examples of taking longer to think than to feel.
Yes, it’s true. Our brain reacts to a situation in a microsecond. But to fully understand what is taking place is quite another matter. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found I don’t fully appreciate a situation, and my feelings about it, for minutes, sometimes hours and occasionally days.
You can see this puts me at a distinct disadvantage when faced with an emotional threat of any kind. I can hardly say to Christie, “Slow down. I need a couple of hours to think about what is happening right now. Can you wait on the car and let me go to work, come home tonight and relax, and then I’ll give you an answer about moving your car.” This would not work. So, what are we to do?
First, understand it takes longer to think than to feel. You must have full appreciation for your feelings, understanding they need to be tempered by thought and wisdom, and this may take some time. Feelings can, and will be, overwhelming at times. You may not know what to do with them, and that’s okay.
Second, slow down the process. While you usually cannot take days to ‘think things over,’ you can take a few minutes. You can respond to the immediate situation—moving the car—while you also consider why you are having the reaction you’re having. Ask your mate for a few moments to collect your thoughts before responding. Scripture says, “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.” (Proverbs 14: 29)
Third, manage your behavior while taking time to understand your feelings. Since it is likely to take some time to understand what you are feeling, and why you are feeling that way, endeavor to act wisely. Guard your tongue. Notice your ‘typical’ default mode and endeavor to respond respectfully, regardless of how you feel. Scripture tells us “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts.” (Proverbs 19: 11)
Fourth, do not judge your feelings. As you take time to understand them, they will make sense. Rarely can we make sense of our feelings while also trying to think. I couldn’t process why I was feeling threatened when Christie asked me to move my car. A seemingly innocuous request wasn’t landing well with me. However, I wasn’t able to think quick enough to know that I was feeling put upon when I was already anxious about my schedule. Being with my feelings has been a tough lesson to learn.
Finally, agree to talk about your feelings, and listen to your mate’s feelings, when you have time to truly attend to the other. Trying to share feelings in the heat of the moment is rarely productive. More often than not this will only lead to an escalation of feelings. Move slowly, be kind in your reaction, and agree to talk about the situation when you can think! You will be able to think more clearly when you have calmed down, have plenty of time to attend to your mate and be attended to, and can feel and think simultaneously.
Do you react suddenly to your mate, regretting words spoken impulsively? Does it take time for you to understand what you are feeling? Join the crowd. Remember, it takes longer to think than to feel, and we must respect this fact. We’d love to hear from you.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center and my Marriage Intensives on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.comand YourRelationshipDoctor.com.You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Originally published March 1, 2011.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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