The Good Wife and I are in marriage counseling, not because our relationship is bad, but because we want it to be better.
I deserve no credit for this, the GalPal has taken all the initiative. And therein lies one of the challenges. I think we should be able to improve things on our own if we carefully consider the different dynamics of the alternating peaks and valleys of our partnership. And then accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. You know, easy-peasy, just use more of our brain power.
Now I know that assumption is terribly flawed. We can’t think our way to a better relationship, it’s much more about heart, and dare I say, feelings. If it has anything to do with intelligence, it’s solely emotional intelligence.
Our counselor diagnosed our main problem quickly in a way that resonated with both of us. Most of the time, when we try to resolve conflicts, one or both of us are too angry, or emotionally “flooded” or “unregulated” to show genuine care for one another and have a constructive conversation. We ignore the flooding at our own peril, proceeding to get more and more angry, and ultimately, saying hurtful things we inevitably regret.
One epiphany came when our counselor asked each of us to describe the physiological changes we experience during the initial stages of a challenging conversation. The GoodWife aced that quiz describing in some detail several physiological changes. The weekend warrior athlete who constantly assesses how his body is or isn’t functioning while swimming, running, and cycling, couldn’t describe a single physiological change; earning a donut hole on the quiz.
The point of physiological self-awareness is to make sure we only enter into challenging conversations when each of us is regulated, meaning sufficiently calm to engage in a kind and caring manner.
I wasn’t as embarrassed by my total lack of physiological self-awareness as one might think, more intrigued. How can that be? Why the hell is that? That realization has me now trying to get into some kind of touch with my physiological married self. To quote Bill Murray, “Baby steps.”
I think the answer to “how can that be” and “why is that” is two-fold. I had two great parents, three older siblings who I tried to watch and learn from, and an overall positive childhood, but there was no intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning more generally going on in our house. Ever.
Nor was there any intentional or deliberate conflict resolution or social-emotional teaching or learning going at any of the K-12 schools I attended. Extra-curricular activities included. Sunday School and church youth groups included.
So it’s not entirely surprising that I failed the quiz.
By this point, my older sissy has stopped reading, thinking to herself, “Ron, it’s not all about you.”
It’s too bad she checked out because I know my experience is that of damn near every male growing up in these (dis)United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We talk about “food deserts” in poor communities, but what about “emotional deserts” in every community, irrespective of economics?
What would emotionally intelligent parenting for both boys and girls look like? What do emotionally intelligent parents know and what are they doing that’s different?
How can educators, coaches, art and music leaders, youth pastors, anyone in youth leadership positions begin fostering emotional intelligence?
How can parents better partner with other adults in their children’s lives to help their sons and daughters develop some semblance of emotional and physiological self-awareness?
We need more attention and better reporting on these things. Meaning engaging and accessible stories that will educate and inspire ordinary people who only know what they’ve experienced. Stories that spark imagination, challenge the status quo, and foster new and better ways of relating to one another.