So here’s the super-duper Get Out of Jail Free Card my therapist friend Scarlet gave me after I’d moaned and groaned my way through dinner, telling her how I completely lost my mind the other day. It's a super-neat trick that's already saved my ass on more than one occasion, and I hope it saves yours, too.
(Unfortunately for Scarlet, I happened to be wired on this particular evening. Below is a partial transcript, so you can listen in.)
Tanja: “Uh-oh. What do you mean?”
Scarlet: “OK. Say Ken does something that really bothers you, but instead of saying ‘Hey, this bothered me and here’s why,’ you end up stewing about it for days.”
T: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
S (giving me a look): “Right. So you find yourself thinking about what a jerk he is, how he doesn’t care about you, blah blah blah. You with me?”
T (mumbling): “Yeah.”
S: “What that usually means is that this situation with Ken is probably reminding you of something that happened in the past.”
S: “Say your dad was an insensitive jerk—you loved him, sure—but he could barely remember your name, much less what made you tick.”
T, panicking: “Wait? You knew my dad?!”
S: “A therapist would say you’re reacting to something in the past. In this case, the insensitive thing your hubby did reminds you of your dad, so that makes everything that much worse. You start thinking your hubby is just a jerk and why did you even marry him if he doesn’t care about you?”
S, giving me a look: “You get it now?”
T (Flagging the waiter down for another drink): “Yeah, yeah. You got me.”
S: “Mmm, hmm.”
T: “What is it, midnight already?
S (checking her watch): “9:30 p.m.”
T: “Same thing.” (Sigh.) “So how do you let go of that past stuff so it doesn’t mess up your life now?”
S: “Exactly. You’ve got to outsmart your thinking. Because once you’re feeling bad, your schema—or your belief system--has you thinking that you suck or nobody cares about you or whatever, it’ll do everything it can to convince you that it’s right.”
T: “That’s a pretty evil schema. Is Wonder Woman going to swoop in here and save the day?”
S: “I sure am. So let’s say you’re mad at Ken, thinking you don’t matter to him, yadda yadda yadda.”
T (nodding): “OK.”
S: “So this schema, or this belief that you don’t matter, is going to go crazy looking for proof that you don’t mean anything to him. Everything he does and says gets filtered through this belief system, and before you know it, him forgetting to blink becomes just another sign that you mean jack shit to him.”
T: “You know, you should be charging me for this.”
S: “I know. So your schema, because it wants to be right, ignores all the evidence that shows you how good and decent your guy is, and how much he loves you. Because that doesn’t fit with the old story, see?”
T (slapping her hand on the bar): “Jesus, Scar! This is huge. No wonder we’re all acting so nuts all the time. Because we are!”
S: "But here's the real trick: to change this mindset, you've got to start paying attention to all the stuff that proves your new belief, not the old one."
T: "So instead of looking for all the ways my hubby's let me down, start looking for all the ways he's rocked my world."
Now, I can't share all of the insider secrets Scarlet shares with me, but this one is huge. Huge! I mean, just imagine how much cleaner our interactions would all be if we were able to stay firmly rooted in the present, and not bring our old baggage to the table. Then imagine how much better our relationships would be if we believed the best about each other, and didn't automatically assume the worst.
That's what I'm working on, anyway. And let me tell you, it's already making a world of difference.
Thanks, Scarlet! I owe you one.
Two adults. Two kids. One year to reboot this marriage.
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