I remember as a kid waking up just about every morning with a bit of a stuffy nose accompanied by a chorus of sneezes, one after another. I think my personal best was five sneezes in a row, each one with the slow but inevitable build up of air staggering in and leading to a series of explosions leading me to look like a live action bobble head, ricocheting whiplash style forward and back. The most embarrassing moment in my long-time sneezing career occurred right after opening my parents top dresser drawer, which came up to my chin, reaching for a hanky (as my mother called them), when another, unexpected sneeze came upon me – no slow build up, no anticipation, but lightning quick. I preceded to do my bobble head downward trajectory on the top of the drawer, leaving a bright red line across my forehead: What timing!
As an adult I discovered that this morning ritual could be largely avoided or minimized through the use of time release 24 hour antihistamine. Once a day, not every four hours, this little beauty seems to do the trick, holding at bay that nasty and irritating attack of involuntary convulsions.
It occurred to me recently that relationship difficulties can be like sneezing. You may not want to read the following if you are eating, but the Wikapanion definition of sneezing is: “A sneeze (or sternutation) is a semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air…usually caused by foreign particles irritating the nasal mucosa. The function of sneezing is to expel mucus containing foreign particles or irritants and cleanse the nasal cavity.” By the way, sneezing can’t occur while you are sleeping.
What does sneezing have to do with relationships? Well, couples arguments can have an explosive, involuntary, ill timed, convulsive effect. They may build up in anticipation, or may come out of the blue, leaving couples a bit banged up if not prepared and knowing when to step back. Sneezes are triggered by irritants and sneezing functions as a way to expel the irritants. Couples may struggle with ways to effectively clear or cleanse the irritants in their relationship, leading to a frequent, or even daily ritual of tension or irritation with each other.
As it turns out, the preventative techniques for sneezing are pretty effective for managing arguments and preventing escalation. Again, from Wikipanion: “Examples of preventive techniques are: the deep exhalation of the air in the lungs that would otherwise be used in the act of sneezing (or arguing), holding the breath in while counting to ten, and crinkling the nose…ensuring the timely and continuous removal of (irritants) through proper housekeeping, and replacing filters on air filtration devices…”.
Your mother was right, counting to ten is a good idea when an argument starts escalating. Crinkling the nose? Well maybe this won’t help so much unless it can provide some comic relief. But getting rid of irritants – yes, this is really important. How do we do that? This is where time release conversations come in. Dr. John Gottman’s research on how the “Masters of Relationships” manage conflict, indicates that 69% of couples problems are perpetual, ongoing issues over the years. These problems are related to differences in personalities, ways of doing things, temperment, and so on. The Masters seem to have a way to deal with the irritants in their relationship by having conversations every once in a while about the same issues that inevitably show up again and again. They talk about how and why this issue is bothersome at this time; how they feel about it; what their concerns, hopes and maybe dreams are about the issue; and what they want to have happen. They develop new filters on how they perceive the issue and their partner.
The Greeks believed sneezes were prophetic signs from the gods. If your relationship has a lot of sneezes, think of the sneezes as a sign that something needs to be talked about and dealt with. Out of conflict comes opportunities for greater closeness and understanding. Understanding what the real irritants are means going beyond the surface of what the issue means to each individual. Ongoing dialog (time released conversations) provide an important path to preventing relationship deterioration, and faciltating greater closeness.
I will cover more specifics on how to have a time release conversation in the next article (Part 2).