Skip to content

Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Why We Feel the Need to Fix Things

“I am so frustrated at work right now,” a woman vents to her husband. “My team just doesn’t pay attention to deadlines and it keeps impacting my work.”

“Why don’t you set up a shared calendar with your team to coordinate deadlines?” the husband suggests, as it seems like an easy and obvious fix to him. To his surprise, instead of his wife embracing the idea, she gets frustrated with his response.

 

I bet this dynamic is familiar to all of us. We’ve all been on the side of wanting to share, looking for someone else to be with us in our emotional state only to feel frustrated when we don’t receive the response we desire. And we’ve all been on the receiving end, listening to someone share their emotional state and wanting to volunteer a way to fix their distress.

Since we’re all familiar with both sides of this exchange, why does it so often go so poorly, leaving both parties feeling unheard and misunderstood?

 

From the Perspective of the Listener

 

Why We Try to Fix Things

 

We Are Uncomfortable With Discomfort

This is a core reason behind this drive – we don’t like to see people suffer. And so when we witness somebody’s distress, we want to alleviate it. Both for their sake, and for ours.

We Want to Help

Most people want to be helpful. This current pandemic with its “stay at home” mandate makes this clear. We don’t want to sit idle, we want to be able to DO something.

We Want to Be Needed

Many of us have a need to be needed and a fear of abandonment if we are needed. And one of the ways that this can manifest is by being the “fixer” for others.

 

 

The Problem With Trying to Fix Things

 

Not Everything Can Be Easily Fixed

Oftentimes, there isn’t a fix for what is causing distress. Or, at least not a feasible one or one that it is our control. In these cases, an attempt to fix becomes an endless source of frustration.

The Outside Perspective is Limited

Whenever advice comes from an outside source, it is operating from limited data and perspective. In the opening example, the husband may not know that a shared calendar already exists and that the coworkers never open the file. It’s easy for the fixer to offer up a solution to the wrong problem.

Sends the Message That the Person Isn’t Capable

One of the reason that I like the coaching process is that it operates from the belief that we know what we need to do, we sometimes need help uncovering and implementing that knowledge. When we try to fix other’s problems, we can be implying that they are not capable of solving them on their own.

 

 

What to Do Instead

 

Listen

Just be there. Acknowledge what they say and how they are feeling.

Ask if They Want Input

Before you offer up a solution, ask if they want input. If they don’t, bite your tongue, at least for now. When emotions are high, people are not in a space where they can hear and process ideas.

Separate Your Emotional Response From Theirs

Sometimes when we hear about somebody else’s situation, it brings up an emotional response of our own. This may be stronger or even in opposition to theirs. It’s important not to try to fix their situation from your impacted state.

 

How to Share For a Better Outcome

 

1 – Choose who you share with intentionally.

If I need to vent about the demands of teaching, I am going to find a more understanding ear in my mom, who was a teacher, than my husband, who hasn’t been in a classroom since he graduated. Be smart about who you choose to go to with certain things. Also, be mindful about what else they’re dealing with and your timing of unloading on them.

2 – Clarify what you’re looking for.

Do you want advice or do you just want to vent? You’re more likely to get out of it what you want if you begin by stating what you’re looking for.

3 – Be aware if you’re complaining endlessly about the same things.

Empathy has its limits. If you’re always discussing the same unchangeable situation or refusing to take reasonable action, people will tire of hearing your story.

4 – Be mindful of what emotions this may trigger in the other person.

Try not to take their response personally; they may be responding from their past.

5 – Try to be patient with the drive to fix.

Even though is can feel dismissive and like they’re not really listening to you, remember that they want to make things better for you because they care about you.

6 – Respond to suggestions with grace and boundaries.

“Thank you for your suggestion” and “That’s not going to work for me.” Repeat as needed.

When You Can No Longer Rely on Distractions

It’s my first day of spring break.

And I’m struggling.

For the other 18 years of my teaching career, I reached spring break both exhausted and relieved, ready for a break from the relentless and overly-structured schedule of teaching.

But this year?

I’m panicky, only now realizing how much I’ve relied on the need to be online and responsive to my students all day to keep me focused and how much the process of reinventing lessons for the digital realm has kept me occupied.

So now, with the next 9 days stretching out before me with no real purpose and no defined structure, I’m feeling a little crazy. A little unmoored. And a lot anxious.

We all have our preferred form of distraction, that thing we turn to in an excuse to avoid facing that which scares us. Many of us tell ourselves stories about our distractions, convincing ourselves and others that it needs attention, while fervently denying that we’re also trying to escape facing down that which scares us.

Like many of you I’m sure, being busy is my favored distraction. I find a strange comfort in my to-do lists that dictate my days. When I’m on the move, I don’t have too much to pause and just be with my thoughts and my feelings. And when I schedule in those times for mindfulness and reflection, I like knowing that there is a limited amount of time for stillness. I only have to “be” for so long.

Even with the current constraints, I could still manufacture busyness. I could create a rigid and demanding schedule to practice coding or work on writing. I could find some all-consuming household project to eat up all my daytime hours. I could escape for hours on end into books, barely taking the time to look from the page.

Yet even though those things call to me, they don’t quite feel right.

I’m panicky.

Reality is setting in.

And I think I just need to learn to be okay with it.

 

Thoughts From a World Turned Upside Down

Trying to Think in a Time of Stress

I wrote a blog post over the weekend. Then, after it was published, I went back and reread it. And I noticed something startling. In half a dozen cases, I left out whole words. Not typos. Not the wrong word. Or even a missing letter. Simply no word at all.

And that’s not the all of it.

I’ve spent the last three months teaching myself to code. I’m at the point where I have a reasonable grasp on the basics and now need to put the isolated skills together in longer – and more difficult – projects.

And I just can’t do it.

The languages, which were starting to feel familiar, are now just swirling letters and punctuation on the screen.

I’ve had to take a step back and work on more bite-sized challenges, which luckily my brain seems able to digest. It’s pretty much the equivalent of baby rice cereal for the brain.

It’s been awhile since my brain has felt like this. Ten years to be exact.

My ex left in July 2009. We started school a couple weeks later.

It had been years since I had felt the need to work out problems ahead of time before giving them to the class. So it caught me off guard when I was trying to explain how to decode a word problem at the board and I got stuck.

My brain simply couldn’t handle a multi-step problem. There was limited retention. No attention span. Instead of problem-solving, my brain was simply returning the cognitive equivalent of the “spinning wheel of death.”

For the better part of a year, I had to make accommodations. I made notes to take to the board with me during lessons. Answer keys were prepared well in advance. I went back and re-taught myself things that I had known but was struggling to apply. Instead of reading my normal books, I gravitated towards young adult fiction with its easier-to-understand writing.

I was worried, afraid that this cognitive decline would be permanent.

But it wasn’t. In time, it returned to its original level.

And so I’m currently holding onto hope that the world – and my brain – will return to sanity again.

 

All over Twitter this week, I’ve seen people timidly admit that they’re struggling to focus. To think. To problem-solve.

They’re worried. That their reaction is abnormal. That they may never be able to think again. That something is wrong with them.

There’s nothing wrong with struggling to think while your brain is busy attending to other (and often scary) things.

Here’s a way to think about it. For the sake of argument, pretend that you’re a skilled knitter. In fact, you can normally knit a scarf automatically and you don’t struggle to follow a complex new pattern.

But now is not a normal time.

Because now, at least as far as your brain is concerned, you’re treading water in an attempt to stay afloat. And knitting has suddenly become a whole lot more difficult.

So if you’re struggling to think right now, know that you are having a perfectly normal response to an abnormal situation.

 

While you’re waiting for your stress to decline and your cognitive to ramp back up, here are a few tips:

 

  • Adjust your expectations. Don’t base them on what you can “normally” do. Remember, your brain is treading water right now.
  • Your attention span is shorter. Schedule breaks.
  • Chunk information into smaller pieces.
  • Provide support for your lack of retention. Get used to writing more things down than you had to before.
  • Give yourself opportunities to feel successful. Otherwise, frustration can easily get the best of you.
  • Intentionally reteach yourself things. It may feel silly to go back to 101 when you’re a professor in it, but that sequential feeding of information will help your brain learn how to function again.
  • Pay attention to the basics – sleeping, nutrition, exercise. They’re important.
  • And finally, be patient. You can’t force this.

 

You’re not broken.

You’re human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: