A Father’s Grief

 

by  John Hoffman

At their very last routine prenatal check up, just one week before their baby was due, Rob and Leslie (not their real names) got the worst news expectant parents can ever get. There was no heartbeat. They were sent straight to the hospital where more sophisticated equipment confirmed that their boy had died in utero.

Those of us who haven’t been through something like this can only imagine what it must felt like. The life with a new little person, one that you had been planning for a long time, suddenly isn’t going to happen.

Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of a very tough and sad series of events over the next few days. Here’s something you might not have thought of. Still reeling from this dreadful news, this gobsmacked couple are told that Leslie’s labour has to be induced right away because of the risk of infection.  She still has to go through labour and birth, except without the payoff a mom usually gets at the end.

Can you imagine?

Most of us would prefer not to imagine. This is an aspect of parenting we don’t like to talk about.  It’s so sad. So unfair. It’s so hard to find a way to talk about this stuff.  I don’t want to scare expectant parents with the worst things that can happen: in-utero death, stillbirth, sudden infant death, miscarriage. But we need to talk about these things because they are real human experiences that should be acknowledged and honoured.

Rob and Leslie’s story is a long tough one. It also included several miscarriages, the heartbreak of an adoption that fell through at the last minute and, ultimately the birth of a daughter who is now four years old and the light of her parent’s lives. I don’t have space to do it justice. So I’ll let Rob’s words speak for themselves. Here are a few snippets from our long and poignant conversation. Rob hopes that by sharing his some of this window into his family’s experience, another father or bereaved couple might be helped in a small way.

Later that day

“We had to be at the hospital for quite a while – waiting for Leslie to be induced, going through labour, and afterward for a while. Everywhere you go in the maternity department you see glowing parents – happy people celebrating. And you’re just right at the bottom. I remember at one point noticing a rack of pamphlets on a wall. There were pamphlets on all sorts of topics for new parents. There was no pamphlet for us.”

Wise advice from a sister

“My sister sent me a very important text message. She said, ‘After the birth, take some time with your baby. Do the loving gestures. Hold him. Dress him in the clothes you bought for him, if you want.  Because it’s the only time you’ll ever have with him.’ Leslie’s first reaction was, ‘Why would I want to hold my dead baby?’ But we did what my sister suggested. We took the time with Alex. We dressed him. I held him and talked to him.

Looking back, I’m really grateful to have done that. Because we did have a relationship with Alex. I’d felt his hand pushing back when I put my hand on Leslie’s belly. He had reacted when I’d played my guitar and sang for him.  He had reacted to my voice when I talked to him in Leslie’s belly.  Doing the loving things, as my sister suggested, was a huge thing for us. I’ve heard bereaved parents say, “if only I could have held him in my arms.” So that memory of the time we took with Alex has been a comfort at times, even now, eight years later. I know that he felt our love for whatever time he was able to be aware of it.”

On supporting Leslie

“In the immediate aftermath I had to push my grieving aside so I could be there for her.  She was the priority. What happened to me was nothing compared to what happened to her. She still had to give deliver her dead child. You’re trying so hard to keep control because you can’t be falling apart all the time. After we got home I tried to look after her, bring her food and things like that. All you can really do is be there.”

Another good piece of advice

“One of my friends is a clinical psychologist. He said, ‘Whatever you do, try not to let this make you bitter.’ He was right, because it would be easy to become bitter. Going through grief like this is sort of like carrying this baggage around with you all the time. And that can make you bitter about other things that happen, or even resent other people’s happiness. At times I’d have to stop myself say, “OK, Rob, you’re being bitter and it’s not doing you any good.”

On people’s clumsy attempts to say the right thing

“People said all kinds of things that were well-intentioned but weren’t helpful. One thing I learned was that people have this need to compare other people’s grief to their own experiences. It’s really not helpful. I’ve learned that you just have to accept that people need to do that and that you don’t have to feel obliged to say anything in return. But I also learned that there were times when I had to cut people off. I learned it was best to do that quickly to avoid the conversation I didn’t want to have.”

Counting his blessings

“It gets better, very gradually. Eight years later life is good. We have a wonderful daughter. Leslie and I are still together and we love each other. It doesn’t work out that way for everybody.”

On long-term grief

“It never goes away. We’re happy now. But the weight can come back just about any time. It catches you off guard. I’m sure it will still happen when I’m 70. And every time that happens you sort of unpack your grief baggage and look at it again. But the good part is that every time you unpack your luggage, you sort it. So the load gets manageable.”

Thanks for sharing your story, Rob and Leslie.

 

 

The Four Most Important Things Dads Need to Learn

by John Hoffman

“Children don’t come with a set of instructions.”

communicate-4-1241867.jpgIt’s the oldest parenting cliché in the world.

And, like most clichés it’s partly true. But even if kids did come with a set of instructions, being a parent is an ongoing learning journey. What are the most important things for dads to learn? Obviously, you need to learn how to look after kids. But that kind of information is easy to find. I want to talk about the big picture. What are the most important core abilities that help men be good parents? I’ve got four things for you to think about.

Learn to understand your individual child and what that child needs.

We know a lot about child development and parenting techniques these days – more than ever before. However, general knowledge about parenting and child development is only useful if it applies to your kid.  And kids are all different. What can be generally true about what is good for, or what works with, most kids, may not true for your kid. It’s a bit like nutrition. We know what foods are most nutritious. But even the healthiest foods aren’t necessarily good for everyone. Some people can’t digest them, and some are sensitive to certain components in some foods.

It’s the same with children. They have different personalities, abilities, weaknesses, sensitivities and stress points. They don’t all respond to the world and their parents in the same way.  A discipline technique, a tone of voice, a way of playing, a way of hugging, a way of teaching that might work for most children, won’t necessarily be right for every child.

That’s why I think a father’s (or mother’s) most important learning job is to know and understand who his child is and what that child needs. Base your parenting on your child’s needs rather than any preconceived beliefs you might have about raising children. I’m not saying throw your beliefs and knowledge out the window. I’m just saying it’s more important to understand your kid than it is to try to use any given parenting strategy.

How do you do this? It starts with a relationship. So hang out with your children, go into their world and share it with them. Talk to them, play with them, ask them questions. Tune into what stresses them, (which could be different from what stresses other kids). This is key because, stress, and how kids react to it, has a big influence on their development and learning.

Bottom line: Whatever else happens on your parenting journey, keep trying to connect and reconnect with your child. And remember that kids and their needs will continually change as they grow.

Learn how to support your partner and work as a team.

If there is one single thing that helps people be their best as moms and dads it’s feeling supported. Obviously, your partner is the key person you need to support and be supported by. Getting support starts with giving it.  I don’t care if your parenting partner is a man, a woman, an ex-spouse or more than one person.  If you support that person (or people) your child will be better off for two reasons. One is that your support helps make that person a better parent. Secondly, you will be more likely to be supported yourself, and that makes you a better parent.

Learn how to handle the stress that goes with parenting

The ability to handle stress, and perhaps even more important, recover from stress, is one of the most important life and parenting skills. Think about it.  Don’t you think and act better when you are feeling good inside? And don’t you do most things a little worse when you are stressed out? So pay attention to your stress. If you’re getting stressed out a lot, then your stress response system is trying to tell you something.

Stress management starts with looking after yourself – getting enough rest and exercise, eating well, avoiding overuse of alcohol and drugs, making time for things you enjoy, and getting social support. It also involves learning how to reduce stress when you can. Stress management is a big topic, well worth learning about.

For more information about stress management check out www.StressStrategies.ca, a self-help, online stress management tool developed by the Psychology Foundation of Canada.

Learn when and how to ask for help

All parents need help and support. That’s where the old African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” comes from.  Children were never meant to be the sole responsibility of one person or one couple. That’s not a slam against single parents. It just means make sure you get the help and support you need. Research shows that parents parent better when they feel supported by their family, friends and community.

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If you can learn how to do these things – and keep learning as you go along – chances are you’ll be a pretty good dad.

A Fast Track to Single Fatherhood

by John Hoffman

It’s not often that a 47-year-old guy, who wasn’t really planning on fatherhood, ends up as the full-time single parent of a four month-old baby.

That’s what happened to George* (not his real name) last year. Right now he’s on parental leave, looking after baby Nathan*, now nine months old. Nathan’s mom is involved and comes for visits. But George is the 24/7 parent. (*names changed to protect people’s privacy)

This situation is not something George planned. In fact, he didn’t even know his girlfriend, was pregnant until four days before she gave birth. She hid her pregnancy (rather well, apparently) from everybody. When George finally realized that Melissa* was pregnant he urged her to go to the doctor to get checked out. The next day she sent him a text confirming that she was indeed pregnant. The day after that she sent another saying she had given birth. Later the same day she informed George that she would be meeting with Children’s Aid Society (CAS) workers the following week to go over the adoption procedure.

It’s not hard to imagine how George’s head was spinning. He was, very suddenly, and very unexpectedly, a dad. “I had no time whatsoever to plan for this,” he says. “I spent the next week in a panic talking to friends and family trying to figure out what to do. After looking at my options I decided that I did not want my son to be adopted.”

However, Melissa still felt she could not take on the responsibilities of motherhood. So George’s only option was to be a single dad. However, that wasn’t a slam-dunk as far as the CAS was concerned. George explains, “I had to show them that I was ready to be a father and that I could give Nathan a good home.”

One issue was George’s living space, a slightly bigger than bachelor apartment – bed/sitting room, bathroom and kitchen alcove, was tiny.  Another was that he had zero baby gear. So he had to get a few things together. In the meantime, Nathan lived in a foster home for three months.

“My friends at work had a baby shower for me,” he says. “They gave me money, gift cards, new and used baby gear. One person brought a huge bag of baby clothes.” Meanwhile George had to make room for Nathan in his tiny apartment. “I made a little baby area in one corner of the room,” he says. “I had to put some of my stuff in storage to make room.” George also had to show that he had a support network – friends and family he could call on if he needed help. And, of course, he and Nathan had to get to know each other. They did that via weekly visits at the CAS office.

Eventually, George was able to put everything in place to meet the requirements of the CAS. The final step was taking Nathan home for a couple of day visits before bringing him home for good. George remembers that first visit very clearly.  “I had thought I was ready for it, but that first time I brought him home was like a bullet between the eyes,” says George.  “I was thinking,  ‘Wow, this is what I’m going to be doing for the next 20 years.’ I felt lots of things. I was terrified. I wondered how I would provide for Nathan. But I was also curious to see what was going to happen.”

That was about five months ago. George got weekly visits from a CAS worker for a while.  They come once a month now. And Nathan’s mother comes by fairly regularly to help out and even “babysit” at times. “She’s decided she wants to stay involved and I realized that I was going to need her assistance at times,” he says. “Besides, I couldn’t, in good faith, cut her out of Nathan’s life.”

But most of the time, George is on his own with Nathan. And, so far, so good (mostly). George says he’s really lucky he got a “good” baby. In other words, Nathan is a happy content baby who doesn’t cry that much and sleeps well. He was already sleeping through the night when he came to live with George.

However, George has had some tough moments with Nathan. At one point this winter, Nathan got fairly sick with diarrhea.  George was worried, exhausted and, frankly, depressed. Luckily, social media gave him a way to reach out for help. “I posted a Facebook status one day where I said that things weren’t going well. And I said something like, “With one phone call I can make all of this go away and get on with my life.”  Within half an hour three different people had called to offer encouragement.

George has found support he needs in other places as well. He sometimes goes to a parent drop-in where he can hang out with other parents (almost all moms) with little kids. And he has joined a local Dad’s group.

George and Nathan have lots of challenges ahead of them. George will be going back to work soon. He’ll have to find child care. And eventually he’ll probably want to find a bigger place to live with more room for a growing child. But for now things are going OK.

One important lesson George has learned is how important it is to reach out for support when you need it.  “I was fairly seriously depressed last winter,” he says. “ I let it go on for far too long before I asked for help. I won’t let that happen again.”

I’m really glad George learned that lesson.  It’s one of the most important insights for any father or mother. All parents need support. And if you can find the support you need, it will do more than anything else I can think of to help you be the kind of parent you want to be.

Good luck, George and Nathan. I wish you nothing but the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recovering from Stress: an important skill for fathers

 

by John Hoffman

Let me tell you about my really bad day – as a dad, I mean.

It took place some years ago when we were on holiday in New Brunswick. Our boys were 2, 6 and 9 at the time. That afternoon we’d stopped at Hopewell Cape to look at it’s beautiful flowerpot rock formations at low tide.

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Hopewell Rocks Low

As soon as we got there, our rather impulsive nine-year-old took off and scrambled partway up one of the rock formations. Not a good idea! These steep rocks are underwater at high tide, so they are wet, and covered with various sea plants and shellfish. Very slippery and treacherous. Scrambling up there was one thing. Getting down? I didn’t see how he was going to do it without hurting himself.

He was too high to reach. So I couldn’t give him a hand to help him get down. I looked at my wife with my best “Now he’s really done it” expression and said, “How is he going to get down from there without breaking his leg!?”

“I can get down,” our son insisted. The he tried to scramble down. Disaster. He slipped, fell, really whacked his hand on a rock and started howling. It could have been worse, but I was still convinced he’d broken bones in his hand.

My thoughts and feelings came in a rush. “There goes the day!  Here we are at one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and, before we even get to look around, we’re going to the hospital. Why did he have to do that?”

I can’t remember exactly what I said or did – nothing particularly bad. But I was “in a state,” as they say. So I was burning tons of emotional energy just trying to keep it together and cover up my feelings, in front of all the other tourists who saw what happened. That left me with zero energy to put into helping our injured son, which was what was really needed in that situation.

Luckily, my wife rose to the occasion. She took him off to a washroom to wash and assess his wound, which, luckily, was not a quarter as bad as I imagined. So, no hospital trip. I took our two younger guys down to the water’s edge to poke around a bit while I cooled down. Fairly soon, as boys (and their fathers) often do, we started throwing stones in the water.  It was fun at first. I was feeling calmer. Just then, Aaron, who wasn’t that coordinated at throwing, managed to hit his older brother in the eye with a small stone. I couldn’t believe it. Another crisis, just as I was starting to pull myself together!

Again, I managed to control myself. I attend to my injured boys. (My wife was not there to bail me out!) Luckily, he wasn’t hurt that badly either. But I was going to pieces inside – frustrated, disappointed, embarrassed and angry (mostly at myself). And, worst of all, this was happening on a day when I really, really wanted to feel good. So now I felt bad about feeling bad. That’s just the worst, isn’t it? I fell into an awful downward spiral of negativity.

I pretty much sulked for the rest of the day. And I slept badly that night. I kept going over everything in my mind, kicking myself for how poorly I’d handled things. When I woke up in the morning I still had a churning feeling in my gut.

I recovered eventually, but it took way too long. And that’s my point. I could have done a number of things better that day. But my biggest failing was not being able to recover from the stress of the day’s mishaps.

Being able to recover from stress is really important. Stress is inevitable. It’s part of life. It’s certainly part of parenting. Crappy stuff happens, even on days when you really want things to go well.  Although it is possible to avoid some stress with smart planning, we also have to be able to recover from the stress we can’t avoid.  So, for me, the lesson from my story is that we should all think about what we can do to help ourselves recover from stress. Knowing how to recover from stress helps us be better fathers.

What helps you recover from stress? Going for a walk or run? Listening to music? Talking to your partner or your friend? Meditating? Playing your guitar? Talking to a buddy who will make you laugh? Doing something fun with your kids? Having a nap?

Think about it. Talk to your partner about how you can help each other.

Learning to recover from stress is a crucial life skill. It’s also a key parenting skill. I hope that, most of the time, you can do a better job than I did that day in New Brunswick.

Top Ten Things Dads Need to Know About Breastfeeding

by John Hoffman

Breastfeeding. Big topic. Important topic.  But there is so much information out there about breastfeeding that it can be mindboggling sometimes. I am far from what you’d call an expert. But I have done a lot of research and writing about breastfeeding. I’ve talked to dozens of mothers about their experiences. And I was on the scene for nine or so years of breastfeeding in our house. Based on that experience, here’s what I think Dads need to know.

1. You don’t need to know all the “benefits of breastfeeding.” All you need to know is that breastfeeding is the way babies were designed to be fed. Full stop. If you want to learn about breastfeeding, you’ll get a lot more value from information that will help you support your partner.

2. Don’t underestimate the importance of your support. Even though you “don’t have the equipment” your support can help her have the breastfeeding experience she’d like to have. But remember, there’s sometimes a fine line between being supportive and adding more pressure. Some breastfeeding moms already feel a lot of pressure. They don’t need more pressure from their partners.

3. Some of the pressure moms feel about breastfeeding is a side effect of breastfeeding politics. There’s an ongoing battle: public health officials and breastfeeding advocates vs. infant formula companies who use all kinds of subtle (sometimes unethical) tactics to get mothers to switch to formula. At the level of the individual this debate is little more than noise. My advice: focus on your partner and what she needs, not breastfeeding politics.

4. Although the vast majority of mothers start out breastfeeding, many of them stop sooner than they had planned. And one of the biggest reasons for stopping early is problems that the mother wasn’t able to solve. Breastfeeding problems can be, and often are, solved. Unfortunately, mothers don’t always get good advice. Ask around and find out who the best breastfeeding experts are in your community.

5. Breastfed babies need to nurse often. Breastfeeding is a “demand and supply” thing. The more a baby nurses the more milk Mom makes. Any guidelines you might see about how often a baby should feed are just that, guidelines, not rules. Frequent nursing is good, especially in the early days.

6. Many breastfeeding problems are caused by an improper latch. That’s the way the baby’s mouth connects with the breast. Breastfeeding is not just about sucking on a nipple. The baby’s mouth should be wide open as he comes to the breast so his mouth covers most of the areola as well as the nipple. The chin should be pressed against the breast with the head tipped back a bit so his nose isn’t squished into the breast. This short video shows what a good latch looks like. The video also shows how to tell if your baby is drinking (i.e. getting milk). This is very useful information for new parents, because it is sometimes possible for a baby to be nursing, but not really drinking.

Having said all that, some babies seem to nurse just fine with “improper” technique.

7. Bottle feeds by Dad, if they happen, should happen because of the baby’s needs (or Mom’s needs), not Dad’s need to feel involved. Bottle-feeding doesn’t always mess up breastfeeding, but it can happen. At least, it’s best to delay bottles until breastfeeding is well established.  And there are lots of important things you can do with your baby besides feed her. Here’s an interesting factoid. Research shows that fathers who give their babies bottles regularly tend to be less involved overall, than fathers who don’t give bottles (to their breastfed babies.).

8. Skin-to-skin contact helps babies figure how to nurse. Really. They used to put babies to the breast right away after birth. Now we know it’s better to put the baby on Mom’s tummy for a few minutes first (although this doesn’t always happen). Newborn babies who get early skin-to-skin contact figure out nursing more easily. Skin-to-skin contact can also help older newborns who are struggling with nursing. If your partner is having problems, encourage her give skin-to-skin a try.  Even if it doesn’t help with the breastfeeding problem, skin-to-skin contact is good for babies in other ways. By the way, try it yourself. Skin-to-skin with Dad is good for babies too.

9. Ideally breastfeeding should be a family decision and experience. But when it comes down to it, it’s her body not yours.  So my view is that, when it comes down to a tough decision – like whether to quit or whether to keep battling in the face of problems – it’s her body, her decision. The partner’s job is to be supportive and help Mom think about what she wants to do, what she feels she can do and what her options are. By the way, if your partner gives up breastfeeding, I wouldn’t try to talk her into the idea that it’s not a big deal. It may be a very big deal to her at first. Be sympathetic and supportive.

10. Bottom-line, your partner needs your support regardless of the feeding method – breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, or a mix.

Does your relationship need the “Anti-Corrosion Treatment?”

by John Hoffman

In my last post I started looking at conflict between parenting partners.

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Corrosive conflict is like rust.  It can gradually damage a relationship that once was strong.

This time I want to talk about what some experts call corrosive conflict. That’s the ongoing, unresolved conflict that poses the real danger to relationships. Corrosive conflict is like rust. It can gradually damage a relationship that once was strong.

Travis (not his real name) and his wife used to have these repeated arguments about him not cleaning up after himself.  Here’s how he described it.  “We have different schedules in our heads about when cleaning up should be done. She wants it done sooner. So she jumps in and cleans up after me before I get to it. She’s resentful because she had to clean up after me. I don’t think it’s fair. It really bugs me that instead of giving me a chance to get to it, or asking me to clean up she does it and acts like a martyr. Then she’s so angry we can’t talk about it. So I walk away. Then she gets even madder. And I get mad. But I have to suck it up because she feels I have no right to be angry.”

Now, the simple fact that a couple argues repeatedly about a topic does not mean the conflict is corrosive. But it could be. How do you know?

Ask yourself these questions. Do you:

  • fight with your partner about the same things over and over again without any sort of resolution to the conflict?
  • always defend yourself and act like the issue has nothing to do with you?
  • often resort to name-calling, shouting or being hostile?
  • end up fighting about accusations and name-calling rather than the original issue?
  • stay angry for a long time after these conflicts?

If you’re doing these things frequently you and your partner need do something about it, not just for the sake of staying together, but also to make your relationship more enjoyable. Conflict is not fun!  And corrosive conflict can have a negative effect on your children (but perhaps we will discuss that at another time.)

Here’s the “anti-corrosion” treatment as outlined in Dad Central Ontario’s Dads! Renovate Your Relationship.

  • Identify one issue you repeatedly argue about.
  • Talk about it at a time when you are both feeling good and calm (and not under the influence of alcohol).
  • Speak to your partner without being demeaning or intimidating.
  • If you feel the need to be critical, criticize what your partner does, not her character.
  • Listen – really listen – to your partner’s viewpoint, without cutting her off the first time she says something you don’t agree with or think is unfair.
  • Accept responsibility for what you can change. If you want her to change her behaviour, tell her what you can change about yours.
  • If a conflict can’t be resolved agree to leave it alone, at least for awhile. But agree to come back to it at a time when you are both calm and ready to talk peacefully. In the meantime, think about what you can do to not make things worse than they already are.
  • Remind yourself what is good in your partner. Tell them.
  • Don’t lose your sense of humour!

Even if you can’t solve the problem at first, taking this approach shows your partner that you care about your relationship. That’s a good first step and it might help your spouse be more open to hearing your concerns and ideas.

Dads! Renovate Your Relationship is a 20-page booklet full of ideas to help fathers maintain and strengthen their partner relationships.  The full booklet can be downloaded from the Dad Central Ontario website.

Love and Conflict Part 1: How the stress response can make conflict worse

by John Hoffman

First the bad news.

Conflict is inevitable; even in love relationships, if you didn’t already know (which you probably did). It makes sense that partners would have conflict. You spend a lot of time together. You have high expectations for each other. You have the classic issues to butt heads about – money, housework, sex, and, of course, leaving the toilet seat down. Having children expands the areas for potential disagreement: child-rearing philosophies, sharing the work of parenting and, of course, discipline.

Yikes! This is getting to be a downer, so let’s have some good news. Conflict need not be destructive. In fact, we can even learn and grow closer from it. But – and it’s a big but – the good things can only happen if we handle conflict the right way more often than not. So dads who want to keep their relationships strong are wise to think about how they handle conflict. And conflict can be handled well – but it’s not easy. Conflict is a big topic, so it may take a couple of blogs to touch on the key issues.

I want to start with how our bodies react to conflict. This is particularly relevant to guys because our gut reactions can often sabotage the brainpower we need to handle conflict well. Here’s why.

Conflict is stressful. And when we’re subject to stress our brains and bodies respond in ways that were designed to help us deal with a threat – you know – like being attacked by a predator. Obviously, conflict with your partner is not that kind of threat. But it can sometimes feel like a threat. And when that happens, certain parts of the brain and nervous system that we don’t consciously control respond as if we were faced with a serious threat. The nervous system releases certain hormones like adrenalin. Our heart starts beating faster. That moves us towards what stress scientists call fight or flight mode. We feel all jazzed up, tense and ready to react. That’s good when you’re dealing with danger, not so good when you’re trying to negotiate a disagreement with your partner.

It’s important to remember that a certain level of stress response can sharpen our thinking and alertness, which is a good thing. But when we’re more highly stressed, for example, dealing with a very angry spouse or when we’ve already used up a lot of energy dealing with other stressors we sometimes slip into fight or flight mode. When we’re in fight or flight the reasonable, thinking parts of our brain don’t work very well, or even shut down. That makes it much harder to see another person’s point of view and respond to criticism without being defensive or angry. And it’s almost impossible to think productively about how to resolve the problem that is causing the conflict.

So, if we’re going to avoid nasty conflict that keeps getting worse and worse we need to:

  1. stay out of fight or flight mode as much as possible
  2. recognize when we do get into fight or flight mode
  3. do something about that

It is possible to get yourself out of fight or flight, often by doing something physical. A bit of exercise, like going for a short walk or run often does the trick. Deep, slow breathing (i.e. yoga or meditation breathing) or even taking a shower can also help. Laughter can also turn down your stress system, that is, if you can find the humour in a situation without making your partner even angrier. What all of these things do is change the chemicals and hormones that are working in your brain and body in ways that help shut down the fight or flight response.

What works best for you is something you’ll have to figure out for yourself. The point is to find a physical activity that changes that jumbled up, anxious, alarmed inner feeling that often pushes us to do or say things that make conflict worse. At risk of stating the obvious, when you’re calm you have a much better chance of resolving the conflict in a way that doesn’t damage your relationship. It’s important to understand that this is not just a question of self-control or willpower. Sometimes you need to do something physical to help yourself.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to give your relationship the anti-corrosion treatment.

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