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SERENITY NOW: Why George Costanza’s Father Had Half of it Right

If you’re like most of us, your partner can trigger you like no one else can – with the possible exception of your mother!  Sometimes all it takes is a few words or the wrong look and your reaction is immediate and intense – you’re angry, upset, hurt and reacting with a lot of emotion.

Think of a time when your partner said or did something that triggered your emotions.  Now measure your emotional intensity on a scale of 0 to 10 with the following:

  • 0 = you feel no emotions other than calm and peaceful
  • 5 = your emotions are moderately strong, whether it’s frustration, sadness, rejection, isolation or something else
  • 10 = your emotions are the most intense you can feel and you act impulsively, doing and thinking things that shock even you.

What number did you get to from 0 to 10?  Was your emotion instant or gradually building?

Did you find yourself reacting with words or behaviors (exploding or shutting down)? Can you feel your self get triggered with:

  • a rising up in your chest
  • tension in your jaw
  • moving anxiously

Can you hear yourself get triggered with:

  • defensiveness
  • blaming
  • shaming
  • criticism
  • slipping into silence

What would it be like to keep your cool instead?  This seems easy to consider when you’re calm, but can be very difficult to actually begin doing.  Although you should address whatever your spouse did or said that triggered you, the time for doing so is not when your emotions are heightened.

Here are some things that can help stop or slow down those instant reactions in the moments when you feel triggered:

  • take a deep breath
  • drink a glass of water or make yourself a hot, soothing, non-alcoholic drink
  • go into the bathroom to remove yourself for a minute
  • say a prayer
  • imagine yourself settling back down
  • Have a phrase you tell yourself silently to settle yourself down to a 1 or 2 such as
    • “I can stay calm and be okay right in this moment.”
    • “I could react right now but I’m choosing not to.”
    • “To react right now would only do more damage.”
    • “Just because my spouse is emotional (at a 5 or above), I can stay at a much lower number.”

Remember George Costanza’s father yelling, “SERENITY NOW”on Seinfeld? Mr. Costanza used a good phrase- he had the right idea-  but his emotional intensity was clearly at an 8 or so.  Used properly, the phrase you choose should help calm you back down to a much less intense level of emotion.

When you’ve calmed back down to a 0, 1 or 2,  it’s a better time to talk about whatever triggered you.  Ask your partner for a dialogue.  For example, you might say, “I noticed I had a reaction yesterday to ___ and would like to talk to you about it.  Is now a good time?”

Your ability to contain your feelings and reactions shows maturity.  Keeping your cool is a huge factor in a healthy marriage.  It will help you deal effectively and productively with hot button issues and is an essential skill all couples must learn in order to progress in couples counseling.

Maintaining a happy, healthy, long-term relationship can be so difficult with all the pressures and challenges in today’s fast-paced world.  Maybe you’ve tried counseling before with little to no results.  Maybe you ended up more frustrated or things improved a little, but only temporarily.  The therapists at Couples Therapy Center of NJ can help.   We’re all specialists in the area of intimate relationships.  We can give you the support, new perspective, and tools you need to have more love and excitement in your relationship. Can’t get your partner to come in with you?  No problem!  We see individuals, too. Call us at 908-246-3074 or email now to schedule your appointment.  Don’t wait any longer.  Start making positive changes today.

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