Keep your relationship resentment-free

I find myself unable to write about the personal realm of relationships without first acknowledging this global back-drop of events that we are all living. So much is going on in our world!

Like you, I have been intensely reflecting on all that this time of Covid-19 has revealed in our world – the sacrifices, generosities and kindnesses on the one hand – the losses, inequities and injustices on the other hand.  I find myself with so much to ponder.

While we all wrestle with our response to the challenges in the wider world, we are also dealing with the very personal realm of navigating day-to-day life at home in the midst of a pandemic.

For those of you spending this time of Covid-19 with a partner, family or housemates, you may find yourselves rubbing each other the wrong way at times.  Being together a lot without the usual escapes and social outlets can be wearing.

And if you live alone, you may also find some of your social relations fraught with frustrations that stem from this time of increased isolation.If your spirit of generosity and cooperation is beginning to wear thin, you may need to address your “resentment closet”.  We all have one, however we don’t need to let it get cluttered.  Read on.

Sending love in these times,

Something to think about

Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.  
— Quote by someone happily married for over 60 years.

How to keep your “resentment closet” clean

I’d like to share a very simple strategy for dealing with the daily annoyances and irritations that can accumulate when living in close quarters during uncertain times.  My husband and I call it our “I ask forgiveness” strategy – and it’s amazing how often it helps to use it.

My husband came up with this strategy when we travelled internationally (remember those days?!). He and I have differing responses to the inconveniences and surprises that are part of travel — and sometimes it can get very un-fun. If we are both anxious or stressed, my husband gets short-tempered and irritable and very urgent; while I get dithery and indecisive and slowed-down.  Not a great combo when we are late for an airplane flight or need to make a quick decision.

What to do?

Although we try not to irritate each other, our best intentions aren’t always enough when stress tips the balance.

So my husband came up with the strategy of asking forgiveness at the end of each day of travel for “any way that I have been ‘scratchy’ with you today”.  We like the word ‘scratchy’.  It denotes the right degree of harm – not a serious injury however noticeable and unpleasant.  Sometimes we acknowledge the moment we ‘scratched’ the other; sometimes there’s no need, as we both know it!

How it works

Here’s how it goes at some point towards the end of the day. One of us says: “I ask forgiveness for the ways that I have been scratchy with you today.  And I forgive you for the ways that you have been scratchy with me today”. The other responds in kind: “I forgive you for the ways you have been scratchy with me today. And I ask forgiveness for the ways I have been scratchy with you today.”

It sounds formulaic, however actually saying the words — and meaning it — makes all the difference. Sometimes the words don’t come easily; I notice that I want to hang onto my resentment. This gives me a chance to be honest with myself and make a new choice in the moment.

If said sincerely, with a genuine intent to forgive and let go, the words are very healing. The little hurts and irritations of the day are released and voila! we like each other again.

An added bonus:  Over time, our awareness of how we were “scratching” each other increased – and the “scratching” decreased!  Now we use the forgiveness practice as needed.
When resentments accumulate

I have noticed that if I don’t have an outlet to release those little resentments on a regular basis, then my ‘resentment closet’ gets very full.  For me, resentment leads to feeling less love for the other and an increase in judging and criticizing. And we all know how partners react to being judged and criticized!

For the big stuff

If the resentments are big ones or chronic ones (your partner lies to you or doesn’t keep their agreements or consistently disregards your feelings, etc.) then a simple strategy like this one will not be a solution or address the fundamental issues.  A more drastic intervention will be needed.

However for the ‘scratches’ of day-to-day living with another fallible human being, it just might do the job. While there are much bigger issues to be concerned about in our world currently, it is often in the minutiae of our day that these larger anxieties find expression.  And this can be tough for the people we live with.

So if things are getting ‘scratchy’ in your household, try this out. Create or change the language so it works for you. Then be willing and loving enough to go first.

Shirley’s Update:

This newsletter is scheduled to reach you while I’m enjoying a short holiday in the Okanagan. It is welcome, as I’ve been very busy during this time of Covid-19.  In addition to my client work in coaching and spiritual direction, I’m also prepping for the launch of Soulguiding 2020-22, as part of the leadership team.  This is exciting work and I am really being stretched by it!  It has also meant less time for writing newsletter articles.

For those of you who are interested:  

Here are a some resources from the current conversations around racism and cultivating anti-racism that I’ve found helpful, thought-provoking and a spur for conversation with others.
  • I’m really liking a series that is offered free of charge by Tami Simon of Sounds True.  It’s called Healing Racism: A 3-Part Series to embrace diversity in our personal lives, our communities and our world. (Click in the upper right hand corner of the photo to find all 3 one hour sessions.) It features Dr. Tiffany Jana, one of the leading educators in diversity, equity and inclusion. I am part-way through the series and am really impressed so far with the level of nuance and loving presence in both the questions posed and the skillful responses of Dr. Jana.
  • I also recommend this very comprehensive document of Anti-racism Resources.  Such an extensive listing of books, films, articles, organizations, etc. gave me lots of choices about where to start my explorations.
  • I also particularly like this article: Performative Allyship is Deadly: Here’s what to do instead
If you are experiencing loss or grief during these pandemic times (and many of us are, in one way or another): I recommend this podcast on The Ambiguous Loss within this pandemic – an interview with Dr. Pauline Boss. (You can listen or see the written transcript.) Dr. Boss coined the term “ambiguous loss” to refer to those situations of loss which are full of unanswered questions. I found her reflections helpful and informative.

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