While we are off hiking the Lycian Way in Turkey we are delighted to introduce you to some of the people we love reading. Today’s guest post is from Dr. Amy Johnson who encourages us all to let some things go for the sake of your peace and happiness.
There is a lot to be said for leaving well enough alone.
Hands down, we feel most compelled to request “a talk” with our partner, deliver a “constructive” criticism, or give unsolicited “feedback”, at the peak of our own emotional storm. When our mood is low and our defenses are high is when it feels most appropriate—necessary, even—to talk it out.
Ironically, that’s also when it is least helpful to do so.
I fall for it too. My mind might be racing, full of I-can’t-believe-he…, and something-needs-to-be-done… thoughts, and jumping into action feels not only wise, but required. After all, if I don’t say something now, what will happen next time? If we don’t discuss this it will just fester and grow, right?
Letting things go does not mean they fester and grow. Not all, but most “problems” in a relationship are problems in thinking. They are problems only because—and only when—one partner is thinking about them.
When your mood shifts (as moods always do) and your thinking clears (as thinking always does), the problem often vanishes. Of course I’m not talking about major issues. But when I’m about to lecture my husband for the umpteenth time about taking our toddlers to the library instead of watching ESPN with them, that’s a mood-induced “problem” brought on only by my current thinking. I know it’s only a problem in my current thinking because when my mood is high and I’m feeling great, it’s not such a problem. I might still prefer they go to the library, but I know their lives aren’t being radically affected. It’s nothing worth fighting over.
It is a problem only when my mood is low. When my mood is low is also when I decide something needs to be done about it, pronto, because that’s what low moods do—they impart a false sense of urgency and an exaggerated illusion of control. That is the worst possible time for me to open my big mouth.
We’ve been taught by therapy culture to talk, talk, talk, especially to clear up annoyances. But annoyances, especially those that are mood-dependent (like my children’s ability to name the hosts of Sports Center), clear up on their own when our mood changes. Letting go, and leaving well enough alone until your mood clears is much cheaper and easier than therapy. It is always an available option.
Here are a few takeaways to help you practice this letting go, “do nothing and wait” relationship style:
1. Don’t talk when you’re upset.
Let your mind clear. This does not mean you are being a doormat; it means you are being rational and you are choosing to not react from a very biased, limited state of mind. When you recognize that your thinking will clear and your mood will lift on their own, and the “problem” might not look like one anymore, why go there?
2. Remember that you don’t have to talk about everything that bothers you.
It’s okay to be supremely annoyed with your partner at times—I know I am. But when you don’t judge that annoyance, tell stories about what it means, compare it to the past or to other couples, it’s not a big deal. It simply fades away, just like the low mood it rode in on.
A focus on what your partner is doing wrong is always more about your current perspective than it is an accurate reflection of reality. I’ve seen far more relationships damaged by the constant need to discuss everything than I have by the failure to have those discussions. Of course there is a time and place for serious discussions, compromise, and emoting, but leaving well enough alone works pretty well at times too.
3. Remember that what seems fight-worthy now may have once been cute.
Remember when you were first dating and the really maddening stuff your partner did looked cute? I remember going to my husband’s apartment for the first time. At first glance, it was spotless—impressive! I could see my reflection in the tile on the bathroom floor and the kitchen looked like a lemon-scented movie set.
Then I went into the living room. The magazines were meticulously fanned on the coffee table, but there was an inch of dust on the table beneath them. He clearly noticed all of that dust while fanning the magazines…he didn’t know to dust?!
I thought this little “quirk” was adorable.
Seven years later in our shared home, the adorableness has entirely worn off. In a low mood, I can easily get bogged down in judgment which makes me want to do something snarky, like introduce him to the dust rag. But I try my best to recognize that what appears to be a totally legitimate and appropriate course of action is not, and I lay low until my mood changes.
When it does, I don’t care so much that he will likely never dust the coffee table. It’s not endearing anymore, but it’s nothing to take seriously. And everything works so much better when I manage to let go and leave well enough alone.
Bio: Amy Johnson is a master certified life coach, public speaker, and author of Modern Enlightenment: Psychological, Spiritual, and Practical Ideas for a Better Life. Her latest book is Being Human: Essays on Thoughtmares, Bouncing Back, and Your True Nature. To find out more about Amy, please visit www.DrAmyJohnson.com