Fall brings bright new colors as leaves turn red, yellow, and orange before falling, creating a lush carpet on the ground around them. The trees are preparing for hibernation to survive the cold of winter.
When winter arrives, we snuggle into our comforters or ski jackets when outdoors, enjoying hot chocolate and cookies.
Then, as the days get longer, the ground wakes up, and bulbs planted in autumn push their way up through the hard ground to add new color that promises a bright spring.
Throughout life we experience different seasons – not as predictable as the seasons of nature, but they are there.
Grief is a journey requiring time and an open mind as we grasp the significance of our life, both before our loss and for what lays ahead.
There will be moments when we acutely feel the need of understanding and comfort, and if we can be open to those moments, we will be rewarded with not only comfort but a greater understanding of life itself.
Can something ugly and scarred be turned into something beautiful and inviting? Let me share with you a true story about a real gravel pit.
A gravel pit is a piece of land where bulldozers and huge earth-scooping machinery have removed the soil to extract gravel and other ingredients needed to build roads, make cement, gather building rocks, etc.
What remains, after all the extractions, is a huge scarred and pitted hole in the ground with unstable and crumbling sides, water seepage from underground springs, stagnant pools of rainwater, huge, discarded pieces of rock and other un-usable mounds of earth. Debris is scattered everywhere, discarded by individuals who consider this a worthless piece of land; a place to throw away their pop cans, beer bottles or candy wrappers.
This has been a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, the inability to meet with each other, give hugs, and share concerns of the day.
We have learned to use more technology to operate our businesses and hold group meetings. We have driven up to our churches and stayed in our cars to listen to our pastors speak or we have listened to sermons on YouTube.
We have had groceries delivered and become familiar with masks. We have prayed and reached out to each other in the safest way possible.
It has been a surreal world – one in which we struggle to create a sense of normalcy. We are even learning how to sing as a choral group, rehearsing without gathering together in a group.
Everything was going so nicely, and then life stepped in. There’s not enough money to pay the bills, the credit card debts are piling up, in-laws intrude with too many visits or too much advice, to keep my job I have to work longer hours and accomplish more.
Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more – tempers flare, anger rises beyond the norm, and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy, and support.
And the scene is set for more serious troubles.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.
Communication is a skill that is learned and developed over time. When we recognize what isn’t working, we can replace it with something that will work.
We communicate all the time. We cannot not communicate. With our facial gestures, postures, words, or attempts to change the other person, we need to know how to become the type of communicator who respects ourselves and others.
Knowing yourself is vital in becoming a good communicator.
You need to know what triggers your stress buttons or emotional upsets, your fears of being hurt or looking stupid. Finding ways of dealing with adversity are often hidden from you until you are willing to accept yourself unconditionally, with both the good and the bad. When you feel okay to face your vulnerabilities you are taking charge of your interactions and your life, and that is reflected in your conversations.
“But you said. . . ”
“No, I didn’t. . . ”
“Yes, I heard you say. . . ”
“Well, that’s not what I meant!”
And so, it goes – round and round and round and we end up with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend and destroy each other.
Anger builds as each continues to dig in their heels and insist they are right, and the other is wrong. You probably have had such conversations or have witnessed them. Discussions at this point soon move into the blame game:
“You always try to pin the blame on me. If you were here instead of out golfing, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Oh, and how about you – out shopping again.”
The conversation has gone beyond misunderstanding and name calling.
So many things that contribute to high levels of stress in today’s world. Not having a job, home schooling while maintaining a job, unexpected financial concerns, trimming our budgets to bare bones, travel restrictions, and the inability to enjoy social functions, are but a few.
When the cares of the day max our ability to cope, we find that those high levels of stress can make it harder to maintain positive relationships.
We know that anxiety levels can dramatically rise as optimism flies out the window and worry about our future takes over. Anger, guilt, and shame are quickly activated. Learning to calm ourselves through slow, even breathing whenever stress levels rise is imperative.
Like summer wildfires, the results of anger unleashed and unchecked by logic or reason can leave behind destroyed relationships and ruined lives. Left unrestrained, our lives can become tinder boxes ready to explode with just a spark of irritation.
Anger, like fear, is a great stressor when it becomes the norm for dealing with life’s problems.
As therapists, we see the effects of growing up in homes where anger is out of control. The wounds and scars run deep. Unless recognized, addressed, and changed, the patterns of behavior repeat themselves from one generation to another.
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