To complicate matters, we may be unwittingly attracted to partners who trigger our schemas—something you might see when opposites attract. And dormant schemas can rear their heads during times of transition or stress, such as when a couple moves into a new home or has a first child.
The antidote, says Tara, is mindfulness, which involves being aware of our emotions without being ruled by them. "Mindfulness cultivates a sense of equanimity as we experience emotional states. We recognize the emotion just as it is—without resistance or judgment," she says. "When we can recognize our emotions clearly and openly, we can be more flexible in our responses."
Humor helps, says Tara, who compares her emotional detective work to playing a Where's Waldo? game, trying to find the hidden critter in a Byzantine picture. "When Dan and I were talking about repetitive patterns, he remembered that when he was about 4, he was playing house with a girl across the street. She was the stay-at-home person, and he would go out..."
"This was the 1950s," he quickly interjects.
"He would go into the office and work. He was only 4 years old and he didn't understand the concept for work, so he would just go into a corner and say, 'Work, work, work.' Then I started to use that when he was in his office poring over papers. I'd just playfully say, 'Work, work, work.'"
And it did work, Daniel says: "I actually changed the hours I spent behind closed doors."
"He realized he was missing spending time with me," she says.
"I was getting gypped," he says. "I was a workaholic."
Well, he's been on the go since four this morning; he flew in from a workshop in Virginia, and they leave for California tomorrow morning. Still, in all, a win-win situation from the looks of it. Apparently, the hours and shorter and the understanding greater.
But what if you're married to a man who would rather watch talking heads on CNN or jiggling bods on Baywatch or, heck, have needles thrust under his Cheeto-encrusted fingernails than excavate feelings with you?
"You're not stuck," Tara says, "because you can change yourself. You can be mindful for him. If you can do a schema profile of your partner, you can start to understand him in a deeper way. You can make little adjustments. If he doesn't feel cared for, you can do caring things—really pay attention or listen. If someone feels easily controlled, you can be careful with the language you use. Rather than use a directive, you can suggest things..."
"If you say, 'Let's see that movie,' it's like you're controlling them," Daniel says.
"If you understand the schema, you can make changes that counter it, and you can build trust in the relationship, and compassion and sensitivity," Tara says. "A relationship is a system. There's a causal relationship. When one partner makes a change, it affects the other partner.
"There are so many ways to break an emotional habit," she adds. "You can apply changes to the behavioral realm, to thinking, to feeling. I mean, if you really think about it," she says as her husband gazes at her, "it's kind of amazing."
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