I thought I’d take a lesson from marathon racing as an example of how to care for yourself with more kindness. “Hitting the wall” is a marathon term for when your body says “No more, that’s it.” The bummer is that it usually occurs 6-8 miles before the finish line! Most marathoners and athletes know the psychological shift that occurs when a part of you says, “I’m throwing in the towel.” Like the last rep in lifting weights that just doesn’t want to get off your chest. Like getting the air knocked out of you.
I recently ran a marathon. I had known of the legendary wall–my coach and all my friends and colleagues who have run a marathon spoke of it. Did I think I’d hit the wall? No way! But sure enough, right around mile 18, I felt something I never felt before and took me a minute to recognize. It was a whole new level of pain. A mixture of pain and physiological shut down, like my body isn’t going to do what I want it to do. It was exhaustion so great as to completely fill my mind with the idea that I’ve got to stop running and abort the mission. I hit the wall.
Even after months of training! And what I ended up saying to myself was, “Slow down, modify your goal, keep going and maybe a bus will come along and put me out of my misery.” Because no matter what, I wasn’t going to stop until I crossed the finish line or I keeled over.
How many times have you told yourself that?
This is a formidable mindset in personal, professional and athletic achievement. It is an ability to override your fatigue, exhaustion and limitations in order to achieve an aim or goal. It is heroic. And you feel glory for your accomplishments. This ability has come from years of conditioning and coaching. But your conditioning and training of overriding your pain may create difficulties in your close relationships. This doesn’t turn out to be a great strategy for long-term relationships and your own personal happiness.
Have you ever noticed yourself feeling anxious, angry or attacked in a close relationship and you just blow up? Like a volcano, you are a juggernaut. Or you’ve done that and experienced the fallout from it and now you tend to clam up when arguments start with your partner? “Suck it up” you may tell yourself. Or maybe you end the relationship. Either way, what has happened is that you “hit the wall.” You likely feel psychologically exhausted, overwhelmed or dysregulated. You may also become distrustful of your ability to manage the situation effectively. And blowing up and clamming up are behaviors that can become a cycle where one leads to the other. Then you often feel stressed and unhappy.
Here is a tip: When you are engaging with your partner and it is getting difficult, louder or you are fighting, notice what is going on in your body. Does it feel comfortable and relaxed? Or do you feel bad or uncomfortable? Are you yelling? Are you silent? Are you holding your breath, tensing your muscles, getting tunnel vision? If you are say to your partner, “I’m stressed right now. I need to take a break.” Then take as long as it takes to get yourself to neutral. Rest, workout, refuel, get counsel from friends or your therapist and get yourself back into neutral. John Gottman, http://www.gottman.com/, reports that feeling neutral in your relationship more of the time can serve as a foundation for a satisfying long-term relationship.
Individual counseling can help. You can get consultation and self-management coaching from counseling. A men’s support group can help. Couples counseling can help. You can learn how to manage yourself with more compassion and empathy when you hit the wall.
More tips to come. Take good care of yourselves gentlemen.