How to talk to someone who is irrational. Timing is everything.

I don’t recommend trying to reason with anyone who is angry or irrational.

Here’s why. When a person is angry, stress hormones are automatically released into the bloodstream. These hormones tell the body to do one of four things:

  1. Fight
  2. Flee
  3. Freeze
  4. Collapse

Notice that “Talk “isn’t on the list. That’s because anytime we feel personally attacked or threatened, our reptilian brain—the ancient, purely reflexive, non-rational part of the brain—reacts, and our entire body shifts into survival mode. We don’t think straight from this place, because in survival mode, the rational part of our brain shuts down so the reptilian brain can get us to safety.

It is always better to postpone difficult discussions until both parties are in a more balanced, and more resourceful place. Nobody thinks straight in a hailstorm. Better to wait until the storm has passed.

Deciphering a Dying Man’s Wishes

So sorry your boyfriend is dying and that you’re having to struggle with this issue at such a vulnerable time for both of you.

I think it’s important to know why your boyfriend is asking you to leave. It could mean any number of things, and it would be good to know what his reasons are before you decide a course of action.

For example:

  • It could be that seeing you suffer is too painful for him. If that’s the case, your presence may be adding to his own suffering, since he can’t relieve you of it. He might be able to spend time with you if your were sharing your grief and pain elsewhere—like with a friend or counselor. That way, when you were with your boyfriend, he might experience you as a support, instead of an amplifier of his own suffering.
  • It could be that he feels embarrassed having you see him in a weakened state. if he is getting weaker or losing the full functioning of all his faculties. It’s hard to see yourself being whittle away by disease or pain, much less having someone you love witness this diminishment.
  • It could be that he feels guilty for leaving you, so he’s concerned about you ‘wasting your time’ on him when you could be looking for someone who isn’t dying.
  • It could be that the way you’re trying to support him isn’t the way he wants to feel supported. I think it’s worth asking him if there is some way you could be with him that would actually be a comfort. You can assume he’s going through his own internal ‘night of the soul,’ so without asking, it’s impossible to know what’s behind his request, and if anything you could offer might be helpful.
  • It could be that he has other reasons for wanting you to leave. And he may not be able to articulate or be unwilling to talk about them.

Whatever his reasons, it sounds like you could used some grief counseling to prepare yourself for the inevitable, and to work though whatever issues are coming up for you through all this. Remember that you both matter. You both have needs right now that you may not be able to satisfy.

I recommend that you get more information from your boyfriend so you are clear why he’s insisting you move on right now, instead of letting you be with him through all this. In the event that he won’t or can’t explain, I would honor his wishes.

Dying is taking away your boyfriend’s liberty, his freedom, his vitality, his future, his choices, his sense of control. By honoring his wishes you are showing him you respect his right to choose how, and in whose presence he spends his final months, weeks, days, and moments.
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Ask Betsy: Why do I feel better when I fill out an Express Yourself E-Card?

Why do I feel better when I fill out an Express Yourself E-Card?

Because your brain loves you when you get it right! It’s a fact. Something changes in our bodies the instant we find the words we’ve been searching for.

The best example is the feeling you get when you see someone you know coming toward you, but you can’t remember her name.

You know the feeling, right?

It’s physical. You smile awkwardly, while your mind scrambles through your mental Rolodex of names:

“Sarah?”

“Sandra?”

“Sally?”

“Shoot! What is her name?”

And then, it happens. Her sister shows up and instantly, you remember. “It’s Charlotte! Charlotte and Cherise Beignet. The Beignet sisters!”

The correct labeling of objects and feelings is soothing to areas of the brain associated with survival. Your life doesn’t depend on you remembering the names of the Beignet sisters. But it might depend on you properly identifying the word “snake” when you hear a hissing rattle coming at you in the desert.

Emotions come to us through our senses. We see, smell, taste, hear, or feel something, and our bodies react. We don’t consciously think “snake,” for example, and then run. We hear hissing and our brain says, “Run!” Only later—once we feel safe—do we have the luxury of time to reflect and accurately label the reason we reacted the way we did.

Anger is a destructive force in most relationships. It’s not a bad emotion. It’s just that its expression generally scares people without telling them anything useful.

Anger is blunt instrument. It does one thing extremely well. It pushes people away. But it doesn’t describe the other feelings that can bring us closer to the people we love.

Anger is blunt instrument. It does one thing extremely well. It pushes people away when we feel unsafe. But it doesn’t fully describe the complexity of the other feelings we’re having. It’s unusual to feel just anger, without also feeling hurt, embarrassed, lonely, dismissed, resentful, or controlled. And it’s the constructive expression of those feelings that can bring us closer to the people we love.

Filling out an E-Card makes you feel better because it helps you recognize, identify, and express the “all” of what you’re feeling: the hurt and the sadness, the disappointment and the loneliness, the heartache and the fear.

Many of my clients use the cards without ever sending them. They fill out the checklists as a way to clarify their thoughts and feelings before having a face-to-face conversation.

This naming process, and the soothing effect it has on us has been the greatest discovery for me in using the cards with my clients.  It turns out that learning to self-regulate by accessing the higher functions of the brain (where language is processed) is critical to self-mastery, and leads to more effective self-expression.

Affairs, Separation, Divorce Part 2: What about the kids?

In Part 1, I discussed why most affairs fail. If you have kids, your risk of failure is even greater. If you do decide to separate, divorce, or continue with an affair, Part 2 contains a list of Dos and Don’ts for parents to follow.

  • Do make sure your kids have someone to talk to: a counselor, clergy, or other trusted adult besides their parents.
  • Don’t think that just because they’re not talking about it, they aren’t struggling.
  • Do answer their questions honestly, but with restraint.
  • Don’t burden children with information they don’t need to know and won’t be able to forget. Remember: They are counting on you to make them feel safe in the world.
  • Do treat your spouse with respect. Your kids need two parents who can disagree, be angry, even fall out of love, but never be disrespectful of one another.
  • Don’t talk negatively about your ex or their affair partner to your kids, or within earshot of them, or in texts. It hurts them and makes you look heartless, cruel, or petty.
  • Always always communicate directly with your ex about changes in plans, requests, complaints.
  • Don’t put your kids in the middle. For example, Don’t pressure them take sides or ask them to “get your mom to say yes.”
  • Don’t pump kids for ‘dish’ on ex’s affair partner
  • It’s okay to share your sadness with children in general terms about what’s happening.
  • Do not over-share. For example, don’t discuss a spouse’s abusive behavior, unless the child has witnessed or overheard it, or you have concerns about the child’s safety with the other parent: chemical use, violence, extreme volatility.
  • Don’t use a child as your confidante. This is damagaing to teenagers as well as children.
  • Don’t expect them or guilt them into taking care of you.
  • Do assure them you are getting outside support (and get it!)
  • Do comply with agreements between you and your ex.
  • Don’t bribe kids with things the other parent can’t or won’t get them.
  • Don’t ever ask them to keep secrets from their mom or dad.

Above all, remember: Nothing you do as a parent is more important than keeping them healthy, mentally and physically during this difficult time for your family.

photo courtesy of Unsplash