Recently, I heard from a happily married woman who eagerly
anticipated her husband's imminent return from a military tour of
"I'm frustrated with feelings of anxiousness and am getting
easily irritated with my kids lately. I am having a day where I am
actually looking forward to heading to the grocery store for a long
shop-alone. This way I won't get upset with them. I am sure it has
everything to do with my husband coming home."
Why would anticipating something she is actually eager for
provoke her to become easily irritated with her kids? Consider the
heightened state of 'arousal' we find ourselves in when something
excites us. In fact, the feeling that we're so excited that we
could practically 'jump out of our skin' is very real, because this
level of arousal leads to increased heart rate, blood pressure and
a general condition of sensory hyper-alertness as well as to
heightened mobility and increased readiness to respond to whatever
happens-whether it's spilled milk or good news.
Other extreme emotions, like anger, can inspire similar
reactions. Ever been so upset about something that you came home
and overreacted to a relatively minor incident? When this
heightened state of arousal is left unchecked, it can 'leak' into
other areas of our lives. There are, however, things we can do to
minimize its negative effects.
This military wife was wise to recognize her need for a little
respite. She solved her immediate concern, that she might overreact
again, by planning to put some temporary distance between herself
and her children. It's true that grocery shopping solo seems like a
guilty pleasure once you have kids, isn't it? Also, since she has
identified a pattern (for her, anticipating her husband's return
creates heightened arousal, which leads to excessive reactivity),
she can nip it in the bud before it gets the best of her.
I used to know a stay-at-home mom who swore that it was only by
the grace of God-and the little glass of wine she consumed every
afternoon before her husband returned from work-that his arrival,
and the hours that followed, weren't peppered with arguments and
If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, you could put
the kids in the stroller and go for a jog to take the edge off your
anxiety as you relish those free, stress-relieving endorphins
instead. Or, maybe you could pursue regular time with people and
activities that inspire good laughs and good vibes. You may have to
experiment before you find a solution that fits for you.
Keep in mind, too, that no matter how glad and even grateful we
are for our partner's return-whether it's from a workday, business
trip or tour of duty-it's natural to feel some irritation that our
routines are about to be upended.
We've found a way to manage-and even thrive-in this person's
absence, and their return forces us to move over and share the
driver's seat and collaborate as co-pilots again. Acknowledging
that this dynamic is at play is a big step toward sweeter
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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