As I sit here this morning, fresh with conflict fatigue, the answer that comes to me is just one simple word, but far from simple.
My wife and I both had difficult days yesterday for different reasons. Toward the end of the night, I got my feelings hurt, but only after I’d already hurt her feelings. It turned into a whole thing, spilled over into our morning, and came to a conclusion via phone as she was driving to work. It was a positive conclusion, but whoa, it took a lot of mental and emotional effort from both of us to arrive there.
One small step that would feel like a giant leap for me would be…how do I even put this in words? Internal attunement. I think that’s it.
You see, my day yesterday was emotionally draining, but pretty sedentary, physically. My wife’s work day didn’t go as she wanted, dragged into the evening, and followed her home. By the time she arrived, she was physically drained, but also low on emotional resources – with things still to do.
Now, I thought I was being pretty attuned towards my wife by keeping my expectations for our time together pretty realistic. She had a lot to do, and I had planned ahead for how I would “be”. I was gonna just go along to get along. I even pitched in to help her get some things done.
What I missed (and this is not a new thing for me) was that while my physical presence was somewhat helpful, she needed my emotional presence even more – which as I shared, was already pretty much spent by that point. So, being kind to myself here, it’s no wonder I whiffed it. But still…I whiffed it!
Empathy and attunement are not attributes addicts are known for possessing. We tend to be overly self-focused and yet not very self-aware. In my case, I can be very connected, even enmeshed with the feelings of others to an unhealthy level, yet it’s difficult for me to access my own feelings. Similarly, I tend to miss my wife’s emotional cues as well. There’s many reasons for that, but a lot of it has to do with brain development – which can be healed. This is a desired growth area for me, and I’ve been working on it.
I involved myself in too many emotional conversations yesterday. In fact, I choose to do this so I can practice empathy and attunement. And I like feeling helpful, wanted. Not bad things – unless this leaves me depleted, unable to recognize my own emotional status, and disconnected from my wife. Noticing, in hindsight, that my emotional energy was already spent, one thing I need to do is step back my emotional output during the day. This requires a higher level of awareness on my part to, as Dr. Curt Thompson coined “pay attention to what I am paying attention to”, and notice when I’m giving more than I’ve got.
So, yeah. Internal attunement – to know how much I have in my own emotional bucket – would be one “small” thing that could bring about a huge leap for my mental health, my marriage health – and beyond!