Today I had a period of time that I completely checked out. It was bad. Let me try to relate to you what I experienced.
The best that we can remember, I was already in a bad mood, believing that I wasn’t being productive, that I was being lazy, despite accomplishing quite a few things around the house early on in the day. My wife tried to reassure me that I was being productive and contributing to our household, and I refused to listen to her. That got her ire up, and we devolved into a shouting match that lasted for at least three cycles of irate and calm.
Early on in the process she gave me the line “is it better to be right or be happy?” and I answered her “I’d rather be happy.” And then kept right on digging my heels in.
The louder she got, the more my mind checked out of the conversation. I found myself refuting everything she said out of hand, barely aware of what she was saying, only paying enough attention to be able to counter her with progressively more nonsensical arguments. The line was clearly not working.
Eventually I just started asking for the argument to be over. No more yelling, no more debate, just quiet. And we’d quiet down and start to try and rationally discuss what had just transpired. And within minutes we were right back to irrational yelling.
This was a long episode, maybe 45 minutes or so, and it finally burned itself out enough to where I could approach the post-mortem with a clear head. Why didn’t the line work this time? It had worked beautifully twice before this. What was different about this instance?
I’m blessed with the ability to be uniquely insightful about myself and what’s going on with me, even if I can’t necessarily be insightful all the time. If hindsight is 20/20, I have X-ray vision. It took me only a short few minutes for me to break down the situation and realize where the flaw was.
I started out in a bad mood. I was already spiraling downward when the exchange between us started. That wasn’t unique; the two times before I was already feeling crappy about myself and the line worked just fine. The disconnect came about because I couldn’t answer the follow-up question until late in the argument, and I was still so frozen in thought that I couldn’t articulate it in the words that I needed to.
The follow-up question to “Would you rather be right or be happy?” is, of course, “What would make you happy?”
When she first gave me the line, I couldn’t answer that. I had no clue what would or could make me happy at that point in time, and not being able to answer that question just fueled the fire into irrationality and panic. (I think I’ve said this before in this blog, but it bears repeating: where others fight or flight, I freeze. The more panicked I became over the situation getting out of hand the less able I was to cohesively think and communicate a solution.) It wasn’t until I was mentally and emotionally exhausted that I started voicing what I wanted, what would make me happy – the end of the episode – only I never said in so many words that just stopping the argument would make me happy. And so it continued in cycles.
We apologized and made up afterwards, went about our day, enjoyed the rest of it without further incident. But fights like this drain both of us, and we’re both tired beyond belief at this point in the evening. The physical effects of my bouts with irrationality last far longer than the mental or emotional effects. Within minutes of the end of the episode, we were back to being a loving, doting couple, but I was tired for the rest of the day.
So the lingering question remains: how do I answer that follow-up? The initial question, “right or happy,” acts as an interrupt of the spiraling process, but unless there’s a pleasant thought to replace the awful one, the process of arresting these incidents of irrationality isn’t complete. And the follow-up, “what would make me happy,” oftentimes has no answer. It’s not that I can’t think of something, although this time I couldn’t. What happens when my irrational mind doesn’t give my rational mind permission to voice its desires to let someone outside my head help make those desires a reality? Worse yet, what happens when the answer is “being right would make me happy?”
Today has given me a lot of things to think about. But right now, I’m going to try not to focus on the unanswered questions that linger long after today’s face-off ended. Right now, I’m going to try and do something that’s going to make me happy.
Even now, through a calm, rational mind, it’s difficult for me to voice that opinion. What if what I want to happen isn’t agreeable with my wife? What if she wants to do something else? Would she feel forced to just go along with it despite her wish to be doing something, perhaps anything else?
My mind is starting to spiral back into itself again, and so I’m going to wrap this up and actually communicate my desires with her before I start the mental ouroboros all over again.