The other day my wife and I took the kids to Costco to get a few things (a few things that always cost a shockingly high amount because of how quickly they add up when you buy bulk). Getting out the door with a one and three year old can be a challenge, but it was a pretty average experience that day. Being at the store, nothing really bad or good happened; it was just a Costco trip. When we were loading the car to go home, I started thinking, “What’s wrong with me? I feel irritable and I have no idea why.” As I processed this thought and was flipping through reasons for it, I had nothing. Here’s the important lesson from this boring story: Some days we just have low patience. There’s no particular reason. It just was what it was. Earlier times in my relationship I might have tried to pin it on my wife or maybe my job, but I was just having a low patience day. As the saying goes, “I got up on the wrong side of the bed.” There’s a reason for that saying. This is normal. We don’t have to have a specific reason why we feel what we feel; sometimes it just is. Sometimes we’ll go through a phase of a certain feeling, and it just is. As a therapist I find when people pin their feeling on one thing, even when this person gets what they want, they’re still not happy. Why? Because if we’re in a bad phase, it’s never just one thing. If we’re in a bad phase, we shouldn’t just blame our marriage or our job or one specific thing because sometimes it just is and other times the bad phase is the result of numerous factors. There is no miracle cure. Proper sleep, exercise, and nutrition have strong impacts on our mood, but we can have all three of these in proper order and still feel off.
The second important rule to take from this is no matter how we feel, we still need to be nice to others; there is never a good reason for us to be rude. Let me reinforce that: we need to be nice or we’re a meany pants. Regardless of what others do to us or how we feel, we need to be nice if we want to be a good person. Sometimes we’ll want to warn people, “Today is an off day,” but regardless, we never have an excuse to be rude or to not do our responsibilities. If we can’t help but want to be rude or we know the other person will likely trigger us, it’s good to separate ourselves and be in our own space. For instance, I had no idea what PMS could do because my mom and sister were brilliant at separating themselves when they weren’t themselves (dating was a shocker, but the illusion was wonderful while it lasted). Sometimes it helps to vent like journal or two-hand-slam a pillow on the bed, but with the feeling I had that morning, the best thing for me was a nap; I needed a refresh button, which wasn’t happening. Instead, when we got home I went to work, and by being productive, I eventually got into the rhythm of the day and eventually felt more myself.
The best thing about this experience is in the car my wife we ended up having a good moment despite my irritability. As we left the parking lot, my wife very gently asked, “Are you okay?” This wasn’t in a dig fashion or as a complaint. It was a genuinely interested question with some concern. She asked it perfectly. When we ask the right question at the right time in the right way, we are likely to get the right kind of response, which my wife did. My response was, in turn, as best as it could be (it’s like we’ve been working on healthy communication for 15 years). I said, “I don’t know why, but I have zero patience today.” My answer was kept to one clean sentence without sharpness or rambling (a habit I’ve been trying to break). I will say, because I had noticed my lack of patience on my own loading the car, it was easier to give my wife a proper answer. It’s also noteworthy that it’s good my wife felt safe enough to ask if I was okay and she chose to ask rather than just assume I was mad at her or to get mad at me for not being happier when I was with the family. To add to this, my wife added to the moment by sharing that she often has times like this. She agreed that sometimes we just don’t feel like ourselves and there isn’t any particular reason.
After a few minutes of silence, I few ideas came to mind, which I shared: “Maybe what my problem is I’m feeling a lot of emotional weight right now,” and then I shared the short list. I don’t know if this was the answer to my low patience; I really think I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but this ended up giving my wife a few thoughts to share, and it was a very connecting conversation despite the fact I still felt miserable. Fortunately, when we feel miserable, we can still have good moments and connect with people. When we feel understood, we feel cared about, and when we feel cared about, it’s easier to be patient even when we don’t have any patience.
When someone is upset, we don’t want to “fix” the problem unless we’re asked for help. If we want to offer unsolicited advice, we can ask, “Can I give a suggestion?” or say, “Have you thought about…” The truth is advice isn’t the most important thing we can give someone (a shocking realization for many). Quite often, I find wanting to give advice is more for us than the other person who is sharing; it makes us feel smart or important while the other person can feel brushed off or looked down on for having a simple problem to fix. What we should be focusing on is helping the person feel understood. This is far more important than having all the answers. This is great news because it makes our job as the listener easier and removes any pressure to fix anything. Just be there and help the person feel heard. That’s why when I was growing up I talked to my mom and not my dad; she helped me feel understood while he tried to solve the problem I was capable of solving on my own. The more I shared with her, the closer I felt while my dad remained the person I would go to for advice… which I don’t remember happening – a young person who thought they knew everything? Strange. If you want people to come to you for advice so you can feel respected (a typical man desire), focus on helping the other person feeling understood and then there’s a chance you can offer more.
This week may you be nice to yourself and others no matter how you feel.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people