Understanding triggers for yourself and your spouse

It goes without saying that everyone should be aware of their own triggers so as to have proper boundaries with the people in their life. This might include their spouse, a clinician, or perhaps a person in the grocery store. Once we know our own triggers, we can better avoid situations with these triggers as well as adopt behaviors that help manage through the triggers if they are unavoidable.

But what I am proposing here today is not only to know your own triggers but also be aware of those triggers for your spouse (or your best friend). Invariably about three times a year, my husband’s trigger gets tripped. This is often surrounding planning for / taking a car trip for a week to ten days. Or it may have to do with some investment issue or mechanical mishap gone awry – usually something simple. My husband tends to sweat the small stuff but let the big problems roll off his back.

Understanding what triggers my husband is as important to me as understanding what triggers me. When he is under stress he tends to use a tone of voice that is not pleasant to me. For a while in the earlier stages of our relationship I would try to counter that tone of voice in a way that escalated the conflict. I would just mimic back the escalated tone which never resolved anything and only made things worse.

What I have been doing for the last several years of our marriage or so is just going silent if he is in a triggered space. Not reacting. Not engaging. Another thing I do is to let him know I cannot process the information he is communicating to me when he is using that tone. Both of those tactics seem to work better than the escalation scenario.

Another thing I have been doing lately is verbally acknowledging him when I know he is in a stressful place. From time to time, I do talk him down from getting to that trigger in the first place. If we are unable to manage through a trigger zone successfully, I ask for an apology and he gives one.

On the other side of the coin, when I am triggered in my anxiety spot which is almost once a day for a half hour, my husband uses humor to deescalate me. If I am worried about losing the keys, he might say that he threw them out the window or some such joke. If I am worried about the car windows being open, he says he rolled them all down before it started to rain.

I am not sure this is ideal behavior for a couple but it seems to work for us. I understand his trigger areas and largely seek to avoid or deescalate during those times. He understands mine and does his part through humor to let me know my anxiety should not dominate my day or dominate my thoughts.

For the most part, we also go out of the way to thank each other for things we do around the house or to help with the running of the household. We try not to take each other for granted and express gratitude for the times when we are able to manage without impacting each other’s triggers. Part of being thankful is acknowledging that neither of us is perfect and that is OK.

One new home project at a time (continued)

I tackled another clutter spot in the house — this time a storage area under the stairs. This project was motivated by the fact that we are getting a new dining room table from my Mom as she goes into a facility for the elderly. And we need a space to keep the extra leaves. Tackling this storage area spurred me to find pictures of my daughter when she was younger and pictures of me and my husband when we were younger (and much, much fitter).

I hung several of these family portraits and a few other paintings that had been sitting in storage. The picture of my husband and me is when we were first engaged almost twenty years ago. I hung it downstairs as a reminder of how far we have come in that time period and also as a reminder that we could be healthier, lighter, fitter these twenty years later.

So all in all the decluttering under the stairs led to updating pictures around the house and making it homey. It also led to a visual reminder that I would like to get 20 to 30 pounds off and would like the same type of resolution for my husband, though I cannot make that call for him. All I can do is set an example of proper eating and exercise.

My goal now is to find a declutter project once every two weeks and see where it takes me….!

Labor Day weekend (in the States) and covid-19 protocols

It has been in the news that we saw a spike of covid-19 cases after Memorial Day and July 4th holidays in the US. This is a plea (probably preaching to the choir) to wear face masks, keep socially distant and wash hands a lot this Labor Day weekend. (For folks who don’t know Labor Day on Monday September 7th is a US holiday.)

These precautions are not things to do because we are told to do them. They are things to do because we respect the lives of those around us and request they do the same for us.

How I met my husband

Pan back to 2001. I had been engaged once and that engagement did not come about. I had been celibate for about 7 years after the first engagement broke off and spent a lot of time exploring things that I was interested in including quantum mechanics and medical intuition. Largely I was exploring these things on my own at my own pace and one day woke up thinking I should meet someone.

So I went to my best friend and we talked about the possibilities of meeting someone online. This was way before online dating was “a thing.” I decided to submit an online profile but got cold feet at the time it was due. My best friend helped me out – I would answer a question then she would answer a question and so on. So in reality the profile I was submitting for myself was only half accurate…..

It ends up my husband-to-be was the first name that popped up when we did the search. He and I communicated by email for several weeks and then decided to meet in a public place. We met at a coffee shop and I brought my 100 pound Labrador/Newfoundland in the car. After the coffee talk we decided to go ahead with the date and walk some nearby trails. Of course I brought the dog for safety. I also continued dialogue with two or three other guys I met online, but there was no spark there.

From the first meeting at the coffee shop it was just a series of get togethers – a comedy show, a picnic in the park, out to dinner and so on. Soon we both felt we were a match – within several months together. My family was having a family reunion and my husband-to-be joined us. This got my family’s thumbs up and within a week or two we were engaged. My husband proposed on a walk in the woods near my house. It was lovely! After about 9 months of engagement we were married!

Something I forgot to add was that after we started dating we found out that each of our first cousins each with the same Christian name grew up as best friends in Nashville. It was and is truly a small world! While my husband and I met on the internet, our families had known each other for 30 years!

I can’t say married life is easy. There are a lot of ups and downs. But by and large we are able to manage through the chaos and come up on the other end with a largely solid relationship.

What do Fall and December Holidays look like this year?

From where I sit, it is looking like Fall / Thanksgiving and December / Christmas Holidays will be experienced at home without visiting out-of-state family. It is a two-day drive to get to see the in-laws. There is staying in a hotel on the road and then exposure to everyone in our extended family. I just can’t see that happening with covid-19 lurking about.

What are other people planning for fall and winter breaks?

One home project at a time

Since the end of July / beginning of August and largely due to covid-19, I have been embarking on a prioritized home project every week to ten days. It feels good to accomplish projects with a beginning, a middle and an end. I can check them off my list which is great. I can also enjoy the added sense of new homey touches for home enjoyment and decluttering our living spaces.

At first it was being sure my daughter had a good place to do her remote learning. We set up an existing table as a desk for her, got a new rug, added a new pillow, and cleared the room of most of the clutter. Another project was sprucing up the back porch by adding two new jade plants. An additional project was adding two new plants to my daughter’s room – a peace plant and a pothos or fast-growing climber. Another more costly project was getting a new dining room rug since we will soon be inheriting a new dining room table from my mother who is downsizing to go into a facility for the elderly. This took a lot of work and some not so subtle swearing from my husband and me to get centered into the dining room. In addition, I have been cutting the back and front yard every week to ten days this summer and attending to flowers out front of the house. The outside of the house looks nice. It is looking nicer with each project completed inside as well.

For the most part these projects have not been too expensive. Going to discount stores for pillows and decorative accents and to Home Depot for plants helps with the price side of the equation for sprucing up the home. A new plant or a candle can do great things to brighten up your living room or other area where you spend a lot of time.

In addition to home projects, I like to check off my list the regular weekly chores as projects as well. This includes things like grocery shopping, watering plants, vacuuming the downstairs, cleaning the bathrooms, paying bills, getting a pescatarian meal on the table each day, doing the laundry, and other regular maintenance activities. I feel I need to give myself credit for those tasks as well even though they are more maintenance and less of home projects. There are times when I don’t feel motivated to take on a new home project so I have to give myself credit for getting maintenance work done during those times. It is nice that my husband thanks me when I am doing these chores and that he is aware of those contributions.

Other home projects on the horizon include: getting mums for the fall for the front porch to replace the current flowers, getting the dining room table from my Mom, putting down a new living room rug from my Mom, organizing my closet, organizing the kitchen towels and napkins and place mats, etc. I hope to get a further list together in the next few weeks.

Overall, I have to say that having home projects and regular maintenance projects to do is one way of combatting cabin fever due to covid-19. They give purpose to the day and they end up making the home a more comfortable place to be. And that is important because at home is where we need to be now and for the foreseeable future.

What is your take on home projects during covid? Are you in maintenance mode with weekly chores which is still a fantastic accomplishment! ? Or can you tackle a small home improvement project here and there? Not on the scale of official remodeling but more along the lines of decluttering a family space or adding a new touch of color with a candle or a plant or some such small gesture?

I play matchmaker in my thoughts from time to time…

Since I was a little girl I have had thoughts of matching couples together. This is likely due to an inner child of 6 years – which is probably about the time I was first abused and was before my parents decided to give up on their marriage and divorce. They divorced when I was about ten years old.

As any six-year-old I was prone to magical thinking and often extended that feeling in myself by matching so and so with so and so. Most times that remained a thought in my brain. On occasion I would share that information. But for the most part, it would just be a cycle of thought inside myself that was nice to consider.

I tend to continue to do this today from time to time. Call it the magical thoughts of a six-year-old? Or just the desire that everyone I care about is in a relationship where they can love and be loved, appreciated and understood?

Does anyone else have the tendency to match people who they know but may not know each other?

Thoughts from an evolving helicopter mom…

I no doubt struggle with being a helicopter mom — someone who is always hovering about her child and getting overly involved in schoolwork and other developments in my 16-year-old’s life.

In these days of covid-19 I am trying my best to be more hands-off. The last thing my daughter needs during the pandemic is for me to be breathing down her neck about school work. She is 16 so she is largely capable of doing her schoolwork on her own.

She is also an A or A plus student during non-covid times, so it seems more than likely she should be fine in this age of remote learning.

I feel that my anxiety is what prompts me most into being a helicopter mom. Moving forward, I need to talk myself out of anxious feelings before involving my daughter in my own anxiety experience. She has enough on her plate connecting to school and peers remotely and does not need me to micro-manage her. It only adds to her stress.

I believe at the root of the problem is the fact that I was not safe when I was young due to abuse from a neighbor. My hyper-vigilance is a by-product of not feeling safe when I was young and projecting that onto my daughter’s situation. While it is good to be vigilant, there is a definite downside to too much worry and too much involvement nonetheless.

So the goal for now is to not involve my daughter in the consequences of my anxiety: too many questions, worries about deadlines, concerns about testing. She is almost 17 years old and can manage those things on her own.

Going forward, I just need to check-in with her once a day and see if there is anything I can help with. That’s my plan for now. Anybody else have the experience of being a helicopter mom? If so, how do you manage it?

Appreciating the time you have

I can’t believe it!

My daughter is a Junior in high school this fall working remotely on her studies. I cannot believe we only have two more years before she leaves the nest for college (God willing).

I find myself wanting to treasure each free moment with her especially because she is saying she wants to go to university overseas. My sister’s older son did that and ended up married to a young woman in the UK and they now have two kids.

I want my daughter to choose the life she wants including going to college where she wants and settling down where she wants. But I will admit, it will be hard to adjust if she chooses to stay overseas. Every minute (even with a teenager) is precious!

I just had a three-hour talk with my best friend…

My best friend and I talked on the porch with masks and social distancing for the last almost three hours. She is the type of friend who you cannot see for 6 months and then pick up and connect just where you left off last.

It was wonderful to know more about how she’s been doing and helpful to feel that I might be of help just listening to some of the things that have been occupying her life — like caring for her teenage son who has had some mental concerns and being a teacher in this time of distance learning and covid-19. The teachers right now in the States are having a time of it.

Talking also helped me put my own problems into better perspective. The challenges of my life seem to largely revolve around my anxiety even when the actual problems themselves are not that dire. Talking to my friend helped me gain some insight into my own peculiar need to always have something to worry about when that is not necessarily helpful or needed.

My friend is also an avid exercise person. I gave her permission to get on my case for not exercising on a regular basis. I asked her to reach out to her son and to her ex-husband and let them know that she respects the work they are putting in daily to overcome anxiety and other related challenges.

Once again, I am reminded how thankful I am for the relationships in my life. It makes me want to invest more time in developing more meaningful relationships across the board. Even when the conversation moves to serious topics, it is good to know we are not alone and that we can do our best to put on each others’ shoes and walk a mile or two.