Let’s face it. Marriage or relationship trouble is hard. Really hard.
Few scenarios will rock a man’s world more deeply than hearing:
- “I’m not in love with you anymore” or
- “I need space” or
- “I think we should separate”.
Those words send countless men into a relationship tailspin that can quickly reach terminal velocity.
I spend a lot of time helping men in tailspins
Often, tremendous personal growth needs to take place for a man to find the means to climb out of the death spiral he finds himself in.
Most of that time is spent helping them to recover a sense of self, their values, esteem, and worthiness.
There is a lot of learning, un-learning, and re-learning. These are all essential things to learn and will continue to be the thrust of my mentoring practice. However, there are a number of tactical practices I find that most men either just don’t have or tend to neglect during these times – and to their peril.
This was true in my life also when I was desperately trying to climb out of my own death spiral of marriage conflict.
Below is a list of things to START doing immediately along with any other personal development work you’re doing.
Sleeping better to help ease marriage conflict
Sleep can be a bit “cart and horse” during relational conflict making this a challenge at times. Many times a fella finds himself consigned to the couch, a guestroom, or even outside of his home. Not the easiest place to find restful sleep, I know.
Nevertheless, sleep is completely essential not only for biological function but emotional well-being as well. Even two hours less sleep a night can manifest in symptoms that are classically diagnosed as a mental illness. That means to have consistently poor sleep is a bit like developing a mental illness. Not a good foundation for working on personal growth, let alone marriage trouble!
During sleep our brain processes our day, works to blunt the sharp emotional edges of our memories. During sleep our brain sorts through conflict solves problems and more. It’s an essential partner in the personal development journey and in working toward conflict resolution. In some ways, sleep is even similar to therapy!
Without adequate sleep, our pre-frontal cortex -the part of our brain that controls executive, higher-order functions – the calm and rational decision making part… yields that control to the Amygdala – the “reptilian” part of our brains responsible for our emotions. Poor sleep equals sharp emotions, low self-control, anxiety, and depression.
The more we get adequate sleep, the better prepared we are to address the challenges of our marriage conflict.
Having trouble sleeping? Workout earlier vs later. Stay well-hydrated. Try cutting caffeine and stimulants after noon and nix alcoholic beverages a few hours before bedtime onward.
Set a goal to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. This is a must.
- Watch: Matthew Walker’s TED Talk
Go way deeper:
- Watch: Matthew Walker’s Master Class on the science of sleep. (requires MasterClass membership)
Increase your hydration, decrease your tension
It might seem crazy to need to tell a man to drink more water, but many men routinely struggle to stay properly hydrated even without relational conflict.
Without proper hydration, we suffer low energy, poor moods and cognitive impairment. Imagine volunteering to experience those same symptoms at the front door of your house every day, or perhaps upon every visit to a marriage therapist or counselor. Seem like a bright idea? Definitely not! Why then would we want to enter our daily life within marriage with those symptoms?
If you’re improperly hydrated, you’re hog-tying yourself while trying to address your conflict.
Support your self well. Stay hydrated! Use technology to help remind you if needed, but start doing it now.
Go way deeper
- Product: I use Monitor your hydration with Water Lama and love it.
Start forward movement – literally. Calm your intense emotions.
One of the most common things men in marital conflict don’t do enough of is exercise. In fact, little to no exercise is often a hallmark characteristic of “nice guy syndrome” – the married husband and/or father who ensures his wife and children have everything they need but who makes very little time for himself.
Exercise is critical for well-being, especially for men. It increases testosterone, floods the body in chemicals that make us feel good, reduces stress, and increases our overall wellness.
For those suffering from anxiety, exercises that entail forward movement and momentum provided an added benefit. Perhaps you’ve heard of EMDR – (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)? It has been theorized that EMDR is effective because our brains are wired to respond to forward motion by quieting our Amygdala (the reptilian part of our brain where we experience emotions such as fear, terror, anxiety, trauma, fight/flight, etc).
As our Amygdala quiets, so does our anxiety and emotions, allowing our higher intelligence to lead us. When our traumatic memories are experienced, excite our Amygdala, and are then followed up by relaxing the Amygdala, the brain learns to blunt the difficult emotions and release the “stored” response to the memory. The Amygdala creates associations between stimuli and memories and in this way, can lead us to having less emotional responses to repeated experiences.
It’s been suggested that our brain does this by recognizing when our eyes being scanning our environment as we move forward. EMDR essentially spoofs this forward movement with eye movements similar to what we’d experience as we run, hike, etc.
Having a hard time with difficult emotions? Find yourself wracked with anxiety? Go for a run, hike, bike ride, or brisk walk, and try sorting out your emotions while moving forward. See if you don’t feel better.
Go way deeper
Breathing better and deeper to have better and deeper connection.
In our hustle and bustle world, we quite simply learn to breath hurriedly and shallowly. This means we’re chronically under-breathing, getting few too little oxygen and holding on to far too much carbon dioxide.
Breathing better and deeper allows us to quiet the Amygdala – that same reptilian part of our brains that can get us pretty worked up in anxious, relationship-conflict times. A mere practice of some intentional breathing goes a long way toward regaining some higher-order brain function, quieting our intense emotions, and calming ourselves down. Deep, intentional breathing promotes non-reactiveness and restores us to our masculine frame.
Deep breathing also provides us with more focus – something we desperately need when going through relationship struggles. It allows us to sort information with less emotion and more cognition, make better decisions, stay engaged in difficult conversations, and make progress.
Learn to breath better. Practice scheduled mindful breathing.
Go way deeper
I know every one of these items feels quite banal, yet we ALL tend to ignore these in moments of crisis – the precise time when these serve us the most!
Relational conflict draws many men into the most intense conflict of their lives and quite honestly, many men try to fight that battle with depleted physical assets. Bodies short on sleep, short on oxygen, short on exercise, short on hydration, and short on nutrition.
They then get extremely frustrated that their progress seems elusive. Hopelessness and despair ensure.
Brother, I am with you in your desire to see you to succeed in your growth and restoration of yourself and perhaps your relationships too.
To reach that goal, you must be your absolute best self – and that includes your body.
Need help with these things? My mentoring process serves the entire person – body, mind, and spirit. Get in touch and let’s talk about why these practices haven’t been your recent reality and how to make them a permanent part of who you are.
Stay tuned for the sequel… What to immediately STOP doing when experiencing marriage trouble!