Escape from Groundhog Day

Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day? It features Bill Murray as a weatherman named Phil with a bad attitude who finds himself reliving February 2nd, Groundhog Day, repeatedly with all its petty frustrations, pointless activity, and irritation. Do you ever feel as though you’re like Phil?

We have all heard the folk wisdom that says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. While that definition doesn’t quite cover the whole concept, it does capture a part of it. It is not “sane” (rational, logical) to expect things to change if you don’t do something to interrupt an unhealthy pattern to improve your situation. In other words, if you want something to change, you must take the initiative to change it.

I work with a lot of people who are struggling in difficult marriages, where they almost can’t remember what it was like to be attracted to their spouse or enjoy each other’s company. Time after time, I hear that they have fallen into a pattern of behavior and/or communication that tears down their relationship rather than building it up. It is sad to see couples who have spent years in frustration and resentment and who have lost so much happiness because of the way they choose to interact with each other.

Hope for these couples is found when one or both spouses make a choice to break the cycles of “reacting” rather than “responding” whenever negative feelings and words begin to fly. For some, this may mean resisting the urge to hurl an insult. It may mean gently asking for some time to cool down before answering a critical remark. It means setting aside your defensiveness to consider your partner’s point of view. Ask sincere questions about how you may be contributing to the conflict and consider that there may be something you can do differently to break the recurring pattern. Ask your partner what they want and need in your relationship and listen with an open mind. Be willing to share your wants and needs in an open, honest manner as well.

When I’m helping a couple work through problems in their marriage, I often recommend the RAVE Response. When met with criticism, try this:

REFLECTION – State what you understand the complaint to be: “I promised to be home for dinner, but I was late.”

AFFECTION – Affirm the relationship: “I love you and don’t want to disappoint you.”

VALIDATION – Acknowledge understanding of the reason for anger: “I should have been home on time or called to let you know I was running late.”

EMPATHY – Express genuine concern for how your partner feels: “I understand why you’re angry and hurt.  I am sorry I didn’t get home when I promised.”

You can’t control how your partner will behave when they’re upset, but I can guarantee taking responsibility for your own actions and expressing sincere concern for how your spouse feels will have a profound impact on your relationship.

If our friend Phil from the Groundhog Day movie can figure out that his response to irritations changes the outcome dramatically enough to find a happy conclusion, so can you. If you have been in a repetitive cycle of recurring conflict, I encourage you today to choose to change how you react. It may take some time, but it’s amazing to see how couples can move from constant frustration into genuine affection when they put their marriage first. By interrupting a negative pattern, you too can escape from Groundhog Day!

Live, Work & Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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