Challenging Conversations

Let's Tell Our Kids About The Work Of Marriage

Delaney Ruston, MD
August 10, 2021
Couple riding an elephant

Recently I was up early in the morning organizing all my hard drives of video footage when my husband, Peter, emerged sleepy-eyed in the hallway. I said with a big smile, “New day, fresh start,” and gave him a little kiss. He said, “Yeah, and I am sorry I was so grumpy last night.”

The night before, Peter had been really frustrated with me and our communication. We were talking about something related to the kids, and things got a bit emotional, leading to one of our long-standing negative communication patterns whereby I interrupt him, which makes him angry, which makes me frustrated that he is angry since I didn’t mean to interrupt him. 

Why do I bring this all up? Because meaningful longstanding relationships take work! No ifs and or buts, they do. 

Media seeping into our kids’ consciousness is usually only about the pre-commitment phase of relationships: two people meet, they go through some ups and downs, and then things end in a happy, committed union ... the modern version of riding away into the sunset on a horse. We never see what happens after that.  

I truly believe that one of THE most important messages we have given our kids over the years is the understanding of the work Peter and I put into our relationship.  If we are going through a rocky spell, we often name it. When appropriate, we say a bit about what is happening, not worrying them but skillfully removing the elephant in the room.  Sometimes we also give specifics like how we are trying to improve communication, or how we are trying to find ways to spend more time together, etc. They know we are big proponents of getting couples’ therapy at times because we appreciate having an experienced person to do things like helping us better understand the other person’s views and emotions.

Ok, so back to our communication challenge of my getting at times emotionally revved up and fast-talking and then interrupt Peter and say something like, “I know you are going to say…” and I finish his thought. It is like I am too impatient just to let him finish. I hate that I do that, and fortunately, I can stop myself a lot of the time. 

BUT not always. When I do that, Peter immediately gets mad and will say something biting back to me like, “Well, ok, I just don’t need to talk then.” 

I then say, “I am sorry, please talk!”  

And often, I continue with something about the fact that he is irritated with me, “I said, I am sorry, don’t be so mad,”

Well, that night, Peter fell asleep in a grumpy mood, and in the morning, when he apologized, we sat on our back porch to try to unpack, once again, this ongoing issue. As we started talking, I had a sort of epiphany about something I wanted to hear from Peter and shared this with him.  I said, 

“Hun, you know that I feel crappy when I interrupt you and finish your sentence, and I try super hard not to. I feel sad that I keep doing this, and I tell you that. I realize that it would mean a lot to me to hear from you that you wish you did not get so frustrated with me when I interrupt you.”

We took time discussing this, and he said he wished he didn’t have the reflex of getting angry.  He then suddenly snapped his fingers. And I said, “Why did you do that?”

Peter said, “I just came up with something I want to try. When that wave of anger arises, I want to try and snap my fingers to try to diffuse it, rather than say something snarky to you.”

We both smiled. Progress.

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We turned on the Ten Percent Happier Mindfulness app two minutes later to do our 10 minutes of mindfulness. And, I kid you not, the mini-lesson before the guided meditation was about “surfing the urge.” It talked about what to do when you are just about to go into automaticity towards an urge you have, i.e., interrupting! 

Now cut to a couple of weeks later. I interrupted Peter about two times over a few days, and Peter snapped his fingers each time … his new power move had worked. 

There were indeed many other times I was just about to finish Peter’s sentence but stopped myself (and gave myself what I call “silent brownie points” for having stopped myself…”silent” since no one sees or commends you on the behaviors you DO NOT do). 

At dinner with our kids some days later, we talked about all of this with them — my ongoing work to not interrupt Peter (which they know I work on) and how Peter is trying his new snap thing. Also, we talked about how it makes perfect sense that Peter gets frustrated in reaction to being interrupted and how he came up with a snap strategy. And finally, we talked about how validating it was for me to hear from him that he wishes he didn’t get so frustrated by my interrupting.  We had a good family conversation about it all, and we were even snapping and  laughing at one point. 

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Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. Why are movies so much about the “courtship” phase and so few on long-term relationships? 
  2. What common communication challenges happen in our home? 
  3. Can we think of a new way of trying to address these? 
  4. What are things we each do to make our communication and relationships go smoother,  but no one might notice — in other words, what are our “silent brownie points?”
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Challenging Conversations

Let's Tell Our Kids About The Work Of Marriage

Delaney Ruston, MD
August 10, 2021
Couple riding an elephant

Recently I was up early in the morning organizing all my hard drives of video footage when my husband, Peter, emerged sleepy-eyed in the hallway. I said with a big smile, “New day, fresh start,” and gave him a little kiss. He said, “Yeah, and I am sorry I was so grumpy last night.”

The night before, Peter had been really frustrated with me and our communication. We were talking about something related to the kids, and things got a bit emotional, leading to one of our long-standing negative communication patterns whereby I interrupt him, which makes him angry, which makes me frustrated that he is angry since I didn’t mean to interrupt him. 

Why do I bring this all up? Because meaningful longstanding relationships take work! No ifs and or buts, they do. 

Media seeping into our kids’ consciousness is usually only about the pre-commitment phase of relationships: two people meet, they go through some ups and downs, and then things end in a happy, committed union ... the modern version of riding away into the sunset on a horse. We never see what happens after that.  

I truly believe that one of THE most important messages we have given our kids over the years is the understanding of the work Peter and I put into our relationship.  If we are going through a rocky spell, we often name it. When appropriate, we say a bit about what is happening, not worrying them but skillfully removing the elephant in the room.  Sometimes we also give specifics like how we are trying to improve communication, or how we are trying to find ways to spend more time together, etc. They know we are big proponents of getting couples’ therapy at times because we appreciate having an experienced person to do things like helping us better understand the other person’s views and emotions.

Ok, so back to our communication challenge of my getting at times emotionally revved up and fast-talking and then interrupt Peter and say something like, “I know you are going to say…” and I finish his thought. It is like I am too impatient just to let him finish. I hate that I do that, and fortunately, I can stop myself a lot of the time. 

BUT not always. When I do that, Peter immediately gets mad and will say something biting back to me like, “Well, ok, I just don’t need to talk then.” 

I then say, “I am sorry, please talk!”  

And often, I continue with something about the fact that he is irritated with me, “I said, I am sorry, don’t be so mad,”

Well, that night, Peter fell asleep in a grumpy mood, and in the morning, when he apologized, we sat on our back porch to try to unpack, once again, this ongoing issue. As we started talking, I had a sort of epiphany about something I wanted to hear from Peter and shared this with him.  I said, 

“Hun, you know that I feel crappy when I interrupt you and finish your sentence, and I try super hard not to. I feel sad that I keep doing this, and I tell you that. I realize that it would mean a lot to me to hear from you that you wish you did not get so frustrated with me when I interrupt you.”

We took time discussing this, and he said he wished he didn’t have the reflex of getting angry.  He then suddenly snapped his fingers. And I said, “Why did you do that?”

Peter said, “I just came up with something I want to try. When that wave of anger arises, I want to try and snap my fingers to try to diffuse it, rather than say something snarky to you.”

We both smiled. Progress.

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