How to Respond Proactively to Negative Situations Don't let life's "stuff" muck up your marriage. Read on to help put the negative behind you. BY DR. NOELLE NELSON
Don't point fingers at your spouse for bad luck. Be proactive and take control of the situation.
Somebody keys your car when it's just sitting there in the supermarket parking lot; you set your briefcase down for a second to blow your nose and it gets stolen; or vandals have picked your house as target practice, and broken all your windows.
You yell out to the heavens, "What is going on? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?" You're angry, frustrated and hurt. You become paranoid, fearful and distrusting. Suddenly, you’re fighting with your spouse over every little thing that’s happened and they’re wondering why, because they had nothing to do with this.
Then more serious stuff happens.
Your brother is shot in a bank hold-up; your child is pummeled by bullies at their school; and your cry becomes more intense: "Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this?" You are agonized, outraged and in despair. You turn to the one person you should be turning to—your spouse. You blame them for whatever is going wrong. You know it’s irrational, but you’re beside yourself. So along with everything else, now your marriage is suffering too.
Hey, things happen. Your cries are natural and understandable. The problem lies not in your original reactions—the anger, the pain, even the blame. These are all normal reactions to such experiences. The true damage is done when we allow that reaction to determine our response.
You can't do much about the "stuff" that has happened. What is done, is done. There's no way to "undo" it. Wrapping your response tightly around the past event only serves to prolong your own pain and to reinforce your anger. By becoming paranoid, fearful and distrusting, for example, you hurt yourself. Lashing out at your spouse hurts you, them and your relationship.
Instead, respond proactively and get creative! Find out from the local police station, for example, if there have been other instances of cars vandalized ("keyed") or any other minor criminal activity in the area of your supermarket, and if so, shop at a different supermarket, and/or park closer to lit entrances. Get your neighbors to sign a complaint petition to submit to your local police and elected officials demanding better crime control! If you’re setting your briefcase down for any reason in a busy public place and you need to blow your nose (or whatever), set it down between your feet (rather than by your side), where it's harder to get at.
Terrific! Now you've protected yourself without damning the rest of the human race. That is a helpful response.
So to with the "serious" stuff. Many wonderful causes have been undertaken by people who have suffered tragedy. "M.A.D.D." (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers), is a good example that is now a powerful national organization, which has successfully lobbied for laws against drunk drivers. It was started by one woman who lost her child to a drunk driver. After you've cried your tears and screamed out your anger, you too can heal your pain by doing whatever you can so that others don't need to suffer as you have. Contributing to others' well-being is one of the most powerful ways to contribute to your own.
Most importantly, you will have dealt with your anger and hurt constructively. You’ll have restored your personal sense of power and control, your inner stability. With that, you won’t erupt over the slightest thing your spouse does that annoys you. You’ll be at peace with yourself.
Stuff happens. But when you choose to respond in a proactive healing way, you, your spouse and your relationship will all benefit enormously.