You’ve had a skirmish. A lover’s quarrel. A knock-down, drag-out fight. And so understandably, you’re upset. The one thing you must not do: Soothe yourself. That’s right. And I heard it straight from the source of seasoned psychologist Dr. Gail Gross. Today. She told me over tea while sketching out the diagram on a piece of lined notebook paper: Do not, do not, reduce your anxiety, she said.
Who says that, right? Everywhere you turn it’s de-stress, smooth over, calm down, chill out. But that’s not always what you should be doing, says Dr. Gross. That urge to coddle and calm can work against you and your relationship. Rather, she says, you need to allow yourself to descend, if temporarily, into what she calls the “valley of despair.”
Uh, yeah no. I’ll pass on that, you say. It sounds horrible. And yet, if you don’t allow yourself to be alone, to sit with the jagged edges of a recent fight, look at those pieces, how they broke, you don’t learn a damn thing. If you break a plate, you don’t file and smooth down the edges–you need those edges so you now how it all fits together.
I know. You hate feeling anxious, upset (who doesn’t) and will do anything you can do stop those feelings—so, you call or text him (or her), you try to paper over, make it all ok. You try to fix, to mend the issue by seeking comfort from the very person who just pissed you off and shook you up.
This, says Dr. Gross, will not work. Not for you, not for your partner. Not for the long term. She’s not saying shut down or cut that person off, freeze him out, stew. Of course not.
But she is saying that if you go paddling back too soon to make it all “okay” you’re not giving yourself the advantage of learning from what just happened. Allow some silence, reflection. Let the storm pass. If you don’t return to the relationship having gained something valuable from the last fight, you will end up having the same fight again. And again.
That’s not growth or love. That’s madness.