“It’s like an alien has taken over my spouse’s body. It looks like my spouse, but I’m seeing actions and hearing statements that are out of left field!” I often hear this comment from a person whose spouse is going through a significant change, such as a mid-life crisis.
Facing extreme change is a chaotic time, fueled mostly by fear. It’s also a complicated topic, with many facets. Let’s tackle a few things that will help you love your spouse during a mid-life crisis, or other life-changing events.
It’s important to realize that your spouse is primarily in an emotional state, not a rational state. It’s tempting (and often way too easy) to point out the foolishness of your spouse’s arguments and behaviors. Don’t do it! It’s not effective. Your spouse will likely see you as argumentative and unloving, then dig in their heels to hold on to their position.
Taking a rational argument into an emotional arena is like taking a football on to the basketball court. It’s the wrong game with a different set of rules!
Have you ever tried to dribble a football? It’s frustrating and futile! Don’t waste your time and energy. I’m not suggesting you just sit back and let the new behaviors and decisions go unchallenged—not at all. Here are a couple of helpful directions to consider instead.
First, affirm how your spouse feels. This is not the same as being in agreement. For example if you hear, “I feel trapped,” it’s tempting to try to talk your spouse out of “feeling trapped.” Instead, consider an empathetic approach that confirms how they feel by stating something like, “I’ve been interrogating you non-stop. No wonder you feel trapped. I’m going to make a real effort to back off.”
If your spouse feels understood, the interaction will be remembered as rewarding, and that’s progress. Even if you don’t agree with what your spouse is doing, you must affirm how your spouse feels.
Second, keep in mind your spouse is still in there, somewhere! When your good-hearted, kind, intelligent, caring “real spouse” is present, feel free to engage. However, when the “alien spouse” presents itself again, don’t get entangled in fruitless discussions.
Keep it friendly; just don’t try to dribble the football!
You can do this!