I want to prepare meals with Bubba without getting defensive and having a tiff. But what if defensive is ok?
Bubba and I have relationship patterns that sometimes scuff up against each other. It can result in momentary relationship glitches. Or derail a day.
Some are random and rare; others, predictable and more frequent.
In A Wretched Mess, I wrote about a common kitchen scuffle we experience: Bubba offers to help me cook, and I resist it, experiencing his help not as help, but as a statement I’m doing it wrong.
Bubba wants to enjoy making meals with me. My getting snippy takes away the fun, so he leaves the kitchen, usually with disapproval. His leaving means we’re not doing it together, plus we’re both upset. It all feels crappy.
Bubba and I tried to figure out what was going on so we could stop it. That was our goal: stop my reaction from happening. We tried. Many times; many ways.
I want to be candid: we failed.
And I’m embracing that failure, because in failure, I’m accepting reality.
The reality is, stopping is never going to happen.
I am always going to have a reaction. It’s my physiology.
I brake for animals and pull my hand away from a hot stove. I don’t tell myself I need to stop doing that. After reacting, I catch my breath from the shock of the moment and—assuming no burns or dead dogs—I move on. I don’t torture myself for my physiological response.
I accept my physiology. As it is.
It’s the choice I make after braking or pulling away that’s relevant. If I swear at others or embrace guilt or drench myself with self-criticism—that was stupid to brake—I suffer.
When Bubba does something in the kitchen that triggers my physiological reaction, my response is what it is. It’s not good or bad. And if it’s neither good nor bad, I don’t have to exert energy trying to change or eliminate it. I can simply note and accept the feeling; not just acknowledge it to myself, but also out loud to Bubba.
Hey, I suddenly feel activated; I don’t know why. But if you’re picking up energy, you’re right. It’s there.
There’s something powerful about acknowledging reality as it is. It keeps us from falling into a state of cognitive dissonance, that feeling that comes when someone says everything’s fine as they slam the door in your face.
Bubba gets alarmed when I act as if I’m not reacting—plastic smile—or when I chirpily deny my reaction.
When, however, I tell Bubba I’m having a reaction, he actually feels better; it reassures him that his experience of reality isn’t crazy. The floor beneath him stays solid.
I accept what is without finding me wrong. Bubba accepts what is without finding me wrong.
In this space of accepting what is, self-criticism seems less likely to arise; if I’m not doing anything wrong, what is there to criticize? And when it does arise, it has less power and authority than when I deny my physiological reaction.
Tension isn’t completely gone, but acceptance opens up space. Space in which we can see both the reaction and the reaction-to-the-reaction, as two separate things.
In that space, it’s possible to interrupt our automatic patterns; to potentially avoid pushing the same old buttons.
My reaction isn’t a flaw that needs to be fixed. It’s something I can meet with acceptance.
Continued from Part 1: A Wretched Mess