Feeding Off Each Other’s Moods? Let’s talk about it
Let's talk about this Q that showed up in my DMs, after I posted this on Instagram.
"Dr. Tracy, my kids complain to my wife that I "get serious" when my wife is around. I'm probably running low on patience by the time she reappears from work, but I'm likely guilty of feeding off of her short fuse."
Let's talk about what might be happening if you're the partner who ends up "getting serious."
Feeding off your partner's mood. One of the most common experiences talked about in Be Connected, we learned to be peacemakers/caregivers, people pleasers, and to monitor our loved one's moods. It's like a chill that comes with the gust of wind when the front door opens. As a result, we experience a shift in our own demeanour when they come into the house or parenting space.
Boundaries feel hard (With your kids, or your spouse). By the time your partner shows up, you've exhausted yourself from trying to meet everyone else's needs. Or, while your partner's short fuse is put onto others, you struggle to assert a boundary with them.
You're trying to align more closely with your partner. People pleasing? Wanting to feel like a team? Unlike number one where you take on your partner's mood, here you are seeking "sameness." This means that in order to feel connected, you try to be the same - in the same mood or disposition, trying to parent the same way. For many, this type of "sameness" can feel like security - but it's a false sense of security.
There is no transition time for either one of you. We often expect ourselves to move from one task to another, without recognizing the impact on our energy and emotional wellbeing. This is a recipe for overwhelm + exhaustion.
You "get serious" because your significant other is the more "lenient" one. Perhaps you are trying to uphold boundaries for both parents.
➡️ The good news? Once you identify the "what" - what triggers you into this mode (in this case, the "getting serious" mode), you can now decide on "how" - how you want to respond in these moments.
Here are some of my go-to ideas.
1. Start with you. When you are parenting solo, you also want to ensure that you are fuelling you! When do you sit down or pause (and let your child/other person see you doing this?) Knowing just how busy this season can be, I won't tell you to find big gaps of time in your busy day. Instead, think of you charging your cell phone battery in five minute internals. Take 5 minutes, over and over and over again.
2. Assess your boundaries (which connects to number 1). During parenting mode: Sometimes boundaries might be, "I am drinking my coffee hot and I will read you the story after" or a self-boundary to put your phone in the other room to minimize overwhelm. During convos with your partner: If they're slamming things around or speaking harshly, you can assert a boundary. "Its okay to be frustrated. It's not okay to slam the cupboards." or "I sense that you're upset. I can't let you speak to me like that."
3. Plan transitions with your partner: How will you both transition between work-mode to parent-mode? Everyone needs a chance to transition. This can be 10-15 minutes of self-time.
4. Depersonalize your partner's mood. This is easier said than done, but when you notice your partner having a short fuse, remind yourself that their mood isn't necessarily about you! Here is something to practice. "I am okay. They are allowed to be upset." or "Unless they tell me, their mood isn't about me."
5. Remember, you both don't need to parent the exact same way. Practice noticing the strengths that your partner brings forward to the parenting team.
When I receive questions like this, I’m often reminded of how two people are connected. This is not a bad thing. Instead, we can start making small shifts in the ways that we show up in our relationship. Practice the connection piece that is so important to maintaining your bond, while also reminding yourself that you are a separate individual from your partner and you are both okay.
My book, I Didn’t Sign Up For This: A Couples Therapist Shares Real Life Stories of Healing Wounds and Finding Joy in Relationships… Including Her Own, is available for preorder! Learn how to change your repeating patterns in your relationship and build healthy interdependence. As a thank you for preordering, I'll be sending you exclusive book bonuses to help you continue to grow in your relationship.