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The Cost of Losing Our Poise in Marriage

by: Gary Stokes

Often, we lose our poise with our spouse of partner, not over significant challenges, but over small provocations in the most mundane circumstances. Mary, my wife, laughs with me now about this incident of lost poise, but she didn’t find it humorous when it happened, neither did I.

Here Mary tells The Bubble Wrap Story, as it has come to be known in our house:

I went to the garage to retrieve some bubble wrap I had stored in the storage cabinet to use for packing a gift I was about to ship. I couldn’t find it and went back into the house, hollering, “Gary, have you seen the bubble wrap? I said where is the bubble wrap that was in the garage?”

“I used it to pack something I shipped,” Gary said.

Angry now and in my strictest voice of admonishment, “I wish you would consider someone else for a change before you use something of theirs.”

 

Gary, stopping work, alert to trouble, “That bubble wrap had been in the garage for three years. I needed it for a business shipment and used it.”

 

Irritated even more by this defense, I said, “I have been saving that bubble wrap so I would have it when I need it, and now it isn’t there. I just wish you could think about other people and check with me before you use something of mine.”

 

As usual, Gary tried to get me to lighten up by pointing out the absurdity of the situation: “I see now that I should have asked you at the time, ‘Say, lover, do I have your permission to use the bubble wrap that’s been taking up space in the garage for three years?’”

 

Standing now in his office doorway, hands on hips like a cartoon wife, I say, “It’s hopeless to try to get any consideration out of you. Next time I want to use something of yours, I won’t bother to ask, believe me!”

 

I would remain frustrated and disgruntled toward Gary for several hours. I lost my poise and found it difficult to find my way back.

Well, we could say in retrospect, this is the stuff of television sitcoms -- a humorous and harmless example of what perfectly nice married people do all the time. But in real life, our incidents of lost poise are not harmless. If we have too many of them, we can destroy trust and even lose our marriage.

Unexamined, whatever stresses trigger our distraught emotions and then fuel conflicts will surely come around again and again.

These incidents of lost poise are rarely one-time occurrences but are part of predictable patterns that keep us anchored in a murky state of consciousness and a set of bad explanations about how we’re relating to life.

Mary is a wonderfully poised person most of the time, but she has noticed that she slides into a default mode of anger and victimhood when certain things don’t go her way. Here is her analysis of what the bubble wrap incident felt like to her and what the incident cost her:

 

Looking back at this incident is humbling, because I hate to think that such a non-consequential problem could shatter my poise. I was addicted to the idea of right and wrong. Feeling wronged by Gary, I granted him power over my emotional life. I want to get to the bottom of this dynamic and break the pattern that I’ve been in for some time -- maybe my entire life: the pattern of not taking full responsibility for my inner state.

 

All of the key elements of poise fell apart when I found out that Gary had used my entire bubble wrap inventory.

· Presence: Lao Tzu said about the ancient masters of awareness, “The Master…can welcome all things.” I was hardly the Master that Lao Tzu describes, welcoming all things. Even though I know that every moment of life is precious, I angrily rejected what life was presenting to me in that moment.

· Connectedness: Going unconscious, I lost my connection with Gary, the man I love, my friend, trusted ally, lover and fellow warrior traveler. I talked to him as if he were the enemy, a dumb and careless one at that. Poise gone, I felt separate and created a harmful disconnect between us. I really wasn’t connected to anything outside my own wants and expectations. For the moment, I was a narcissist.

· Gratitude: I obviously wasn’t feeling any gratitude. I was unconscious of my incredible blessings. Most of the time I realize with great gratitude that we have achieved the American Dream and much more, yet in this moment I was lost in my ego’s sense of entitlement and couldn’t appreciate anything about my fortunate life.

· Creativity: Angry and self-absorbed, I acted like I had no options, even though they were numerous. I could have invented some alternative packaging solution from other materials around the house. I could have packed up my box and added bubble wrap later, after I purchased some more. I could have practiced my poise by asking Gary if he had finally gotten rid of the bubble wrap that took up so much space in the storage cabinet all these years. Maybe the best one would have brought Gary and me even closer than we are normally. I could have come to him affectionately with a joke about the bubble wrap: Had he been popping bubbles behind my back? I could have turned what at first looked like a problem for me into something that enhanced my life. I know that we can do that with any challenge, but it wasn’t obvious in the moment when creativity was needed.

· Lightheartedness: Needless to say, I went temporarily insane and was unable to laugh at myself. How could I lose perspective so completely? I need to remember the importance of not being earnest. I’ve told my women’s group this story, and now they all introduce their own stories about lost poise with, “I had a bubble wrap moment…,” and we all laugh hilariously over our occasional craziness, so something good has come of my preposterous behavior. I’m laughing late, but I’m laughing.

 

Gary Stokes was founder and CEO of a national laboratory testing new strategies for the development of children and families in poverty. He has coached hundreds of leaders who are working to build stronger families, including Presidential appointees and other top executives in government and education. His recent book, Poise: A Warrior’s Guide, charts a path toward a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage. He maps the universe of poise on his blog, http://thepoisedlife.com/ . Gary writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org, LAFamily.com, and FamilyShare.com.

 

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