A Foolproof 4-Step Guide To Avoid Resentment (Especially When Sheltering-In-Place)
If you're reading this, you've experienced resentment. In all relationships—romantic, professional, familial, or financial—an eventual feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent irritation toward someone is inevitable. And now that many of us are sheltering-in-place, there's a good chance tensions could be on the rise.
In both of our past marriages, we spent years harboring resentment, not expressing our needs, and not feeling heard. Eventually, we both noticed independently our health was suffering, and all signs pointed to resentment as a cause. Feelings got stuffed with emotional eating or alcohol, anxiety led to foggy thinking and digestive issues, and spikes of insomnia punctuated the years.
Thankfully, through our collaborative marriage, we figured out how to have simple (and productive) guided conversations. Featured in our upcoming book, Radical Alignment (Sounds True, 2020), we call it the All-in Method (AIM). It delves deep into how to grow through difficult conversations at work and at home, using four steps we describe as "the four agreements to have a high-stakes, highly emotional conversation where everyone wins."
We'll explain—but first, let's set the scene:
The power of the All-in Method (AIM) lies in its structure and intentionality. Most of us don't bring structure to our conversations, but there is real power in having a plan. It might feel odd at first, but if you want a different outcome, you need to have conversations in a new way. Over time, this will feel more natural.
Agree to listen with compassion and curiosity and speak with courage and vulnerability. It's fair to ask clarifying questions between parts, but keep crosstalk to a minimum. Then, clarify what specific topic you'll be talking about. One timely example could be how to share your home while isolating together during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AIM conversation is broken into four parts. Take them one at a time, with each person taking turns as speaker and listener before moving on to the next:
Each share your intentions.
Share your intentions for the topic at hand. This is the overarching why, and it will likely be different for each person involved. Bringing these broad or fundamental differences to the surface early is helpful in avoiding or understanding disagreements in the details later. Differences are 100% welcome and can often be accommodated with thoughtful cooperation. Noticing differences now helps to avoid trouble down the road—and prevents future resentments.
Your intentions for social distancing may be to "keep me, my family, and my community healthy." When we share our intentions, we highlight what's truly important to us.
Share your concerns.
This part of the conversation is for getting all your concerns, fears, and worries on the table. For many of us, this is the easiest part, because our brains can be worry machines, often looking for problems and focusing on what could go wrong.
Srini Pillay, author, psychiatrist, and brain researcher, tells us that our amygdala is calmed when we speak concerns out loud. The amygdala is at the center of the limbic system—one of the oldest parts of our brains—and is the source of much of our emotional life, including anxiety and fear. Sharing concerns can help you notice where you might be triggered, release tension, and even let go of a false story.
Your concerns about sheltering-in-place may include becoming annoyed with your partner, having no alone time, someone in the house getting sick, or even divorce. Yes, we went there.
Air out even your biggest or seemingly silliest concerns. We’ve discovered that by voicing the fears we’re most afraid of, it takes the power away from them and they ease on their own. All it takes is a loving, safe person to hear them.
Share your desired boundaries.
Boundaries are your personal nonnegotiables and can be framed as important self-care needs. They're a line you won't cross yourself or a line others aren't welcome to cross. And honestly, many of us need a little help when it comes to drawing a hard line.
Remember, you're not necessarily going to get everything you want (this isn't like ordering off a menu), but you could! Plus, it's a great way to erase old resentments through clarity and avoid future resentments from ever happening.
We consider it an act of kindness to share your boundaries with others because inadvertently violating a boundary can create stress, destroy trust, and even irrevocably harm relationships.
Your boundaries during co-isolating together may include, "I want to get exercise on the back patio by myself every morning," "when I'm wearing my headphones, it means I don't want to be disturbed," or "I will drink eight glasses of water daily and avoid alcohol."
Finally, share your dreams.
This is our favorite part: ending on a high note! If this time were to go really well, what would be true? What do we hope for ourselves, each other, our community, and even the world?
Right now, you may be dreaming that we all come out of this healthy, happy, and even better connected. We'll feel proud of how we worked and supported each other, our community, and our profession during this stressful time. We end up feeling strong, resilient, and happy to be alive and thriving.
Looking forward to what you hope to achieve helps to close the conversation and seal the original intention.
We've used this method over the years to deal with a variety of relationship stresses—from visits with challenging family members, raising a child, to surgery, illness, the deaths of parents. And what's been remarkable is that when handled together with care, these stressors actually strengthen our relationship.
Our marriage is the most aligned and strong relationship either of us has experienced, thanks to these four steps. Use them, and keep using them together (or even on your own) to get clear on your personal needs and goals. Now is a good chance to up-level our connection and teamwork skills. In fact, there's never been a better time.
Co-written by Bob Gower, Alex's husband and co-author.