I approached this year’s vacation much like I prepared for my wedding – with visions of undiluted happiness spinning in my head. But after arriving at midnight, I woke up in Vacation Heaven to raging winds, and a stormy sea. Lake Michigan was unsafe for small vessels and open water swimming. And strangely, it reminded me of a shocking truth we all live with, but frequently ignore…
In emotional storms, even the best relationships seem unsafe.
Or at least it feels that way. It doesn’t really matter how much we love someone. And no one has to lay a hand on the other. In fact, we can be absolutely safe physically. But whether we intend to or not, sometimes we just freak each other out.
After almost 27 years of marriage, I’ve experienced this dynamic – in person and in phone calls. And I bet you have, too.
Any of us could be talking, texting, or minding our own business when an emotional storm erupts in our presence. Suddenly we feel distinctly unsettled and unsafe. Imagine dining out with a partner who becomes obstreperous in a quiet restaurant. Think of a husband who realizes his binge drinking wife is late coming home, again. Or a teen whose happy creativity is interrupted by parental yelling upstairs. Or the yelling couple who started out merely disagreeing and wound up in World War III. The sky isn’t falling, but who feels safe in these relationships?
It reminds me of my first earthquake experience.
In August 2007, we were wrapping up a 2-week trip to Peru. On our very last night, my daughter and I sat watching CNN in our hotel room. Suddenly I observed small pieces of plaster falling from the walls. When our beds began to firmly shake, I stated the obvious. “We must be in an earthquake”. Suddenly, we felt unsafe on the 8th floor of a hotel in Lima.
I opened the door and saw people walking fast towards the stairwell. My anxiety was in high gear, but I stayed outwardly calm, and suggested that we follow suit and leave the building. So down, down, down we went, treating the stairs as a game until we found our tour guide on the street. Carlos informed us that we had been in one of the safest buildings in Lima, one built to withstand earthquakes. So as my breathing slowed, I realized another truth we frequently ignore about emotional storms…
In emotional storms, we can be safe even when we don’t feel safe.
Even though we didn’t realize it, my daughter and I were safe as plaster fell from the walls, and as we exited the hotel. Just like we’re safe when a dinner companion is obnoxiously loud in a restaurant. And the husband is safe as he waits for his wife. The teen is safe in her creative room downstairs. The couple, not prone to physical violence, is safe while arguing. And we can use this knowledge to help us feel safe in an emotional storm- if we remember that…
Feeling safe hinges on making a choice.
You see, we can enter the emotional storm, or we can stay out of it. Just like I had a choice to stay inside and dry on day one of this year’s vacation. And like the choice my daughter and I had to exit a shaking building. Sometimes to feel safe, we have to step away from someone else’s emotional storm. We may have to leave a restaurant, stay out of someone else’s fight, or withdraw from a verbal argument that’s spinning out of control.
To feel safe in any emotional storm, we must take full responsibility for our own actions, and release responsibility for the actions of others.
What helps you feel safe in the presence of emotional storms?
Speak your mind below!
It is definitely a choice what emotional storms we allow into our lives. I have learned to love people from a distance instead of allowing them to wreak emotional havoc in my life
I agree, Veronica. Sometimes the best way to love someone is from a distance.
Interesting post as my daughter and I had a situation just last night that created much turmoil and fear of loss. Our dog had disappeared and we spent an hour running the neighbourhood screaming at the top of our lungs for him to come. Although the outcome was a good one (we found him actually hiding in our house), we were both at high pitch upset, thinking he might not be found. It took me most of the night to calm my rattled nerves and learn the lesson. Emotional storms are a part of life, Gina, and I agree the quicker we can stand back and observe and realize we have a choice not to react, the calmer our lives would be. Hope you had a great vacation. It definitely inspired a wonderful article!
Beverley, I’m glad your dog was safe! You are right – emotional storms are a normal part of life and we need to change our approach to them.
One thing I know for sure is to fight fair. Many attack, saying things that are so harmful and destructive that it is almost impossible to forgive and forget. I think fighting (for loss of a better word) is an art…. and a lost art.
Norma, it’s funny how we plan for rainy days and weather storms, but we fail to plan for emotional storms. That lack of planning creates many regrets. Fair fighting is definitely an art.
It’s takes a while for people get over their emotions upsets maybe it minutes or hour however long it takes we all have to confront our “emotional storms” in way that is best for ourselves and others.
I agree. We need to respect the time it takes for each party to calm down.
True. We all have choices on everything even in emotional storms that come in the most unexpected times. It is not easy but we can do it as long as we have the will to protect what’s more important than pride and emotions. Relationships. Thanks for the reminder, Gina!
I like your phrase, “the will to protect what’s more important”. That’s what all couples need in order to succeed.
Great blog as always. Interesting analogy. Sometimes our reactivity intensifies an emotional storm. Learning to stay calm, think something through is an art and a gift. I’ve been playing with laughter when confronted- not taking things too seriously. Sometimes it works.
I used to feel incredibly “unsafe” when I’d have an emotional storm, especially if it involved someone else. Until I realized that I actually have a “choice” whether or not to join someone else’s storm. Choosing to remove myself and let that other person weather his or her own storm has allowed me to step back and observe and learn more about that person instead of fighting and trying to change that person’s mind.
And when I have my own emotional storm, I choose to remove myself from other’s until I am able to talk rationally instead of dragging someone else in to weather “my” storm.
It’s definitely not easy, but a learning curve.