Part 2: You Drive Me Crazy, But What if Crazy was Your Favorite Part?

So in this second part I will discuss how we can confront more effectively and with less chance of offending or triggering your partner’s fear response. And the solution is not always to “choose your battles” as the English idiom goes. I think Johnny Beehner from the Dry Bar Comedy would also agree with me that ignoring problems is not always the solution.

Yes, we have to overlook things and give the benefit of the doubt by, “choosing your battles” but this does not always mean avoiding conflict and confronting differences. Humorously we hear the catch phrase, “Choose your Battles” as some sort of escape valve to sidestep differences in relationships, especially in marriage. Johnny’s point is also my point, it is not hopeless in marriage, you have a say in relationships and don’t have to be driven crazy.

Just as great relationships are not devoid of problems, it is how we respond, rather than react to change that determines the quality of our relationships. As a side note, let me distinguish between reacting and responding in our relationships. Reacting is motivated by a defensive impulse and is limited to fight, flight, and freeze knee-jerk sensations. Responding is when we choose to interrupt the gap between stimulus i.e. triggering events and our behavior. When we choose to respond rather than react we draw upon our creative abilities with unlimited possibilities. There is scientific research on this suggesting that the quality of our interactions depends on which part of our brain is activated.  The good news is that we can learn how to respond with innovation rather than react impulsively in any given situation. And as we know, when we improve our relationships we also improve our lives. So next time you feel the habitual fight coming on, consider doing and seeing things differently.

We do things differently when we shift our focus to respond intentionally and ‘choose your battle ”, rather than reacting, digesting, or sweeping under the carpet the issues we know we need to confront.

There are many reasons we take the path of least resistance and let things slide without choosing one of our ‘battles.’ But we must understand the toll it takes on the relationship too. We rob ourselves from seeing each other when we choose not to confront and lose the opportunity to grow. And besides, we also run the risk to separating and ending the relationship.

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Figure 1: The Sound of Music Dinner scene with inability to confront issues.

People become manipulative when they do not trust that they can resolve their concerns directly. In the musical, ‘The Sound of Music’ Captain von Trapp appeared to be ‘normal’ while his children were the misfits. His inability to confront and resolve issues directly was the major systemic influence causing his children to misbehave. Although the children were still responsible for their behavior, Captain von Trapp’s behavior had influence over his children’s potential to find healthy connection (see figure 1 especially the Captain von Trapp’s mask of ‘normal’ compared to his children and Maria).

His children did not lose their desire to connect with their father even after years of rejected attachment bids. They just went about it differently. School disruption, teasing, and harassing were the children’s way to receive attention from their father. What if we thought about our relationships in the same way? What if next time in your relationship you considered the underling motivation they acted out was driven by a desire to connect with you, howbeit annoying, rude, or insulting?

Which brings me to my final point. Watch when you use passive aggressive means to connect rather than assertively confronting the issue. Yes, sometimes we need to compartmentalize our concerns for the sake of what is appropriate for the moment. For instance, relationship maturity requires us to be emotionally congruent with the situation. You’ve heard the names for those who allow pain from prior unresolved concerns to bleed over with names like, “too overly emotional”, “spaz”, and “catty.” Unresolved issues can be a breakdown on both parties and how we directly or indirectly confront them matters. Of course it takes two to tango. It is difficult to resolve with a one-sided marriage or relationship. This is where I step in, if you feel you’ve tried but cannot shift the momentum call me and schedule an appointment today.

When something really bothers you, it will not go away. Bad news does not get better with time. So it is better to confront our concerns “as soon as appropriate.” Notice I did not say “as soon as possible” which isn’t always as quick as ASAP timing.

So, to confront more effectively and with less chance of offending or triggering your partner’s fear response, I recommend the following:

  • Consider your influence to the negative reactions or responses in your relationship.
  • Write your ideas and possible workable solutions to the problem.
  • Set the stage by finding appropriate time, setting, and emotional state for optimal outcome.
  • Start the conversation with your desire for positive outcome and seek a collaborative approach for solutions.
  • Plan something fun to do afterward to look forward to so that both of you can enjoy regardless of the outcome.  
  • Keep trying.

For those of you that hope seems hopeless, I would be happy to offer expert therapeutic one-on-one assistance. Please reach out and schedule an appointment with me today at (801) 810-8309 or email me directly at ryan@holladayfamilies.com.

Written by Ryan Smith, MS, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

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