Dear 100 Hour Board,
It takes my husband a long time to get over negative emotions, especially after an argument. Even after we resolve some arguments, he just needs time to stew and recover emotionally, and a bad argument with anyone can ruin his mood for the whole day. I've learned to not feel guilty for the time it takes him to recover and to just give him his space, and he's learned to not blame others and recognize he's just very sensitive. Recently though he had a bad argument with his sister, where he and I realized his sister can be abusive and he needs to set boundaries with her. It's been three days since the argument and it's the only thing he can focus on. I know it's traumatic to recognize how unhealthy your once dearly loved sister is, but it doesn't seem healthy to keep replaying the argument, and planning how to talk to his sister in the future, over and over again for several days. My husband keeps asking me for how he can get over this and my advice (exercise, distract yourself, write it all down) which works well for me doesn't seem to be helping him at all. Do any of you know someone who takes a long time to recover emotionally and how do you do it? Is it normal to be so impacted by arguments and take hours to feel better, even after you've resolved the argument?
-Feeling ALL the feels
Dear Can't Fight This Feeling,
I think it's perfectly normal to feel deep physiological effects from being in an argument/heated discussion. Especially if your husband is an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), sometimes those negative stressors take a lot longer to go away. This quote from a Mental Help article helps explain it:
"If anger has a physiological preparation phase during which our resources are mobilized for a fight, it also has a wind-down phase as well. We start to relax back towards our resting state when the target of our anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. It is difficult to relax from an angry state, however. The adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger lasts a very long time (many hours, sometimes days), and lowers our anger threshold, making it easier for us to get angry again later on. Though we do calm down, it takes a very long time for us to return to our resting state. During this slow cool-down period we are more likely to get very angry in response to minor irritations that normally would not bother us."
It's awesome that you guys are able to recognize that this is just something that he deals with, so he doesn't need to feel guilty about this feature of his personality. That being said, I'm sure that it can be hard to deal with sometimes, and he should find ways to cope. It sounds like the things that work for you don't work for him, and that's okay. He needs to figure out what healthy coping mechanisms work for him. It sounds like talking to you helps a lot, though I would recommend talking with a therapist as well. I'm sure they could help work through that. Headspace could be another potentially helpful resource.
Regarding his sister, it's important to remember that the stressor is not resolved. So, if it takes him a long time to wind down after a normal argument, the fact that he still has some things to work through with his sister means that he's going to be thinking about it until it's dealt with... which could be a long time. It shouldn't be debilitating, you're right. He should figure out a way to maintain some level of control over the stress that he feels (for me, that means writing down a plan of how I'm going to tackle the thing that's stressing me out.) Do remind him that feeling stress and hurt are not a sign of weakness, it's a manifestation of how much he cares about his sister. That being said, if she is a toxic person in his life, it might be best for them to be apart, and gradually over time the pain of the change in their relationship will dull and he'll be able to focus on other things.
If time and space seem to be the things that help him most, embrace that. But, I do think it would be smart to talk to a therapist. I don't think he's beyond the bounds of "normal", but if his inability to handle stressors in his life is keeping him from living day to day life in a productive way, he needs to talk to someone who can (professionally) help him work through those issues and figure out how to respond to these situations better.
I reached out to my brother about this since he processes things in a similar way. This is what he said:
Not being caught up in the emotions is a muscle that needs to be exercised and can be strengthened. When there's a negative stimulus that comes in such as criticism or an unexpected confrontation, it can take me anywhere from a few hours to two days to process it and work through it. For me, I had to learn how to let things go, but I also know that I am going to get wrapped up in my introspection about negative occurrences. Sometimes, writing things down and dissecting it can help a lot. When someone calls me out, I'm know that I'm going to shut down quickly and I need some time to recover from that. Typically, the situation is better when I know in advance that it's coming or it's written down and I can work through it without additional emotion involved. In those situations, it really helps when I don't feel like I need to be corrected or changed instantly, but when I have time to work through the new information at my own pace.
Of what I understood from when I talked to him about it, people differ greatly in how they process emotions, and this is not something that can be changed quickly. For your husband, it might mean giving him space and helping him feel accepted emotionally by listening and trying to help him work through his emotions at this pace.
If he's not already seeing a therapist, that is a valuable option for him to process his emotions. They are equipped to help people work through emotions, and it might help him not feel as burdened by negative occurrences.
When you need to confront him about things, you can ask him about how he would want you to address it. My brother suggested that it might be a good idea to write out your thoughts and give it to him so that he can process it and work through it so that he can better manage things in a way that suits his needs and way of processing things. It really depends on how he works.
Recently, I met someone who easily gets overwhelmed and works through things very individually. For him, writing has been a great outlet for him to be able to express himself, and it has been great for me to get to understand him and help him with the parts of his challenges that I understand and have experience with. I've loved being able to help him and I feel like I learn a lot from him as well. One thing that has been especially helpful is being direct and loving when I talk to him, mainly focusing on understanding what he's going through. A lot of the time, I'm not exactly sure what can help him, but I know that even helping him feel understood and validated is important and helpful for him.
It has been extremely helpful for me to understand that people process emotions different, and I have learned a lot trying to understand how they process their emotions. One thing that is cool is how this affects the way people see situations. My brother is really good at figuring out exactly what is going on in a situation and working to get a better understanding of how people are feeling. He works hard to accommodate to everyone, and I think that's awesome.
I wish you and your husband the best of luck with everything,
Your husband, at least as you've described him, reminds me of myself. Beneath my opaque veneer of acerbic humor and good-natured teasing, I'm extremely introverted, sensitive, and averse to conflict. As a result I rarely get into full-blown arguments with people, and when I do, they're usually pretty bad. Easily the kind of thing that can ruin a whole day. Were I in his situation, I'd be responding pretty much exactly the same way. I've done it before.
With that said, my personal experience does not a psychiatric certification make. So while this strikes me as normal behavior for particular personality types, I don't know you or your husband well enough to offer a definitive answer--just the reassurance that he is far from the only person to take conflict this hard. I do it all the time.
So, solutions. What helps? At risk of stating the obvious, this won't be the same for everyone. Personally, I find the repetition and the planning of a response to be helpful, at least initially. I don't think obsession is healthy or beneficial, but it's really important to recognize that disagreements like this, especially really painful ones, also require a reasonable amount of time and energy to be healthily processed and dealt with--simply trying to shelve it without due thought is as bad as continuing to wring one's hands over it well after you've done everything you can.
The sarcastic reader may well be rolling her eyes at this point, I know. "That's so much easier said than done, 9S. Where's the line?" I don't have a cut-and-dried answer, but I'll share an experience that might be helpful.
Many years ago, I had a friend with whom I was very, very close. To make an extremely long story short, a variety of extenuating circumstances caused our friendship to become strained, and gradually it soured until it had become almost entirely toxic--perhaps even abusive. In the end, this friend rather suddenly and unceremoniously cut me out of her life. Although she did offer a token apology, she dishonestly maintained all the while that she hadn't ever actually done anything wrong, and that was as much closure as I ever got.
Hurt, sad, angry, furious--words don't even begin to describe how I felt. I was utterly devastated. I had been in a bad way before our friendship, and I had come to be too emotionally dependent on her, so the betrayal (this after the toxicity and emotional manipulation) seemed like more than I could bear.
I'm not proud to admit that I carried the crushing burden of those arguments and unspoken, imagined conversations for more than four years. For almost half a decade, I could scarcely think about her without fuming. It was utterly miserable. So I took to writing. I wrote down everything I felt about her and about the hurt she caused me, as well as everything I wanted to say to her that I knew I'd never get to. I wrote until my anger petered out, and I would let the draft sit again until the next time an episode hit me and I needed to get it out. I wrote periodically for four years, and initially, it didn't seem like it was doing anything at all. Every entry was bitter and spiteful and vindictive. But eventually, ever so gradually, my anger started to subside, and my viciousness became something more reflective and regretful. Instead of anger, my tone eventually softened until I didn't feel spiteful anymore, just sad.
I also wrote again and again and again to guppy of doom, who was something of a confidant for me at the time. While in hindsight I feel I put far, far more of that burden upon her than I ever should have, having someone to talk to while I grieved was helpful. The only thing worse than emotional pain is having no one to listen.
It sounds from your question like you understand your husband's sensitivity pretty well already. So I don't have anything earth-shattering to offer, I suppose, other than an affirmation that he's not alone and that it's normal for some people to spend quite some time processing events like this (especially when the situation isn't fully resolved yet). The slow, deliberate, manipulative strangling of my former friendship was the longest seven months of my life, and the ensuing emotional fallout took the better part of four years to dull enough for me to let it go. (With that said, I definitely would suggest therapy or counseling if his situation takes anywhere near as long mine did to process--I didn't seek counseling until about three years after the fact, and I regret that delay completely. I feel it allowed a lot of deep-seated emotional problems to take root.) Do what you can to be there for him, even if it's just listening, and given time the stress should hopefully start to dull as he comes to terms with what's happened. From my imperfect perspective, I would also caution you and your husband not to be overly concerned with getting over this unduly quickly. Processing emotions like this is not a fun or enjoyable experience, but it's a necessary one, and it's not something you can rush. It takes time. The intervening days of pain and frustration will pass soon, even if they feel like they never will.
Guesthouse mentioned this, but I want to affirm it personally as well: experiencing emotional hurt like this is not a sign of weakness. It signifies how much your husband cares about and is invested in a healthy relationship with his sister. Years ago, as a reader, I wrote to Auto Surf while I was still struggling to process my own experience, and she was the first person to ever frame my hurt this way, as a positive symbol of my capacity to care about other people. It was a total paradigm shift for me, and one that allowed me to slowly start thinking positively about myself in the wake of a shattered, toxic friendship.
I know that's considerably more personal information than you expected or asked for, but I hope it's helpful. Feel free to email me if you'd like to talk more.
I don't think I can give advice about this because I have a very similar problem, but I'm going to vent a little. I have a different trigger than conflict, but my patterns are almost exactly like this. I think it has something to do with controlling thoughts? and my ADHD can make that difficult, and I think this is really the crux of my anxiety. I need all these tips the other writers have shared, and I'm so grateful for them.
I'm answering basically to let you guys know I also struggle with this and maybe to think through it myself. It's so frustrating when something dominates your mind and heart. It feels like everyone else has already grown up, and can compartmentalize their emotions better than you. It feels like you should be able to move on, but you have such a hard time doing it that you feel like you need external help. (This entire paragraph is also what ADHD feels like. Maybe they're even more related than I give it credit for.) But ultimately the thinking has to be stopped and there's only so much others can do to help.
I have a lot of wonderful and patient people who are willing to help. They listen to me vent about it, remind me that things pass, and to be patient, and then they help me wait it out. But they depend on me to tell them what is good for me. Which requires self-discipline on my part. I have to at least be able to decide, on my own, that it is right to stop. This requires slightly less self-discipline than just stopping on my own. So friends are a very good stepping stone. When I have the self-discipline and wherewithal to do it, I ask them to stop letting me talk about it, and to help me think about something else.
I'm dealing with it today, and itching to reach out to my brother about it, but realizing I just have to wait. I keep reminding myself that I have gathered enough data, and arrived at appropriate conclusions, and the time to execute my decisions will come. I have formed a good plan, and there is nothing else to do about it. There's nothing but me and waiting. I'm using the time to reaffirm my agency. Not just my right to choose, but my responsibility to choose. I'm using the time to steel myself against obsession (that muscle Inklings talked about), because I realize that talking about it too much will only give it more power than it should have. If you're still in the processing stage (writing things down, venting to friends) that's okay for a time. If you're still in the authoring stage (coming up with a plan, and seeking advice) that's okay for a time. But at a certain point, the work is done and you just have to wait. It takes practice here as well to be able to recognize when the work is done. That moment is usually marked by a mind-loop. If you find yourself thinking and saying the same or similar things, your work is probably done. (please realize, I'm telling myself this more than anyone else. I feel weird giving advice when it's clearly not my strong suit.)
I've been thinking about how many hours in brain-time I've given to the problem. In the last week alone, it has probably taken all my extra subconscious.* If your conscious and subconscious each make up a half of your brain-time, that means I've given 49 hours to it.** 49 back-of-the-mind hours I could have spent daydreaming about Sweden, practicing mindfulness and self-love, pondering the scriptures or school assignments, solving world hunger, or noticing sad people who I could smile at. I outline my cost-benefit analysis here, not to add to any guilt we feel about this. But to mark the cost, to motivate us to work. Addicts have to do this to fill their mental-resistance toolbox, and I think we need a similar set of tools.
The most physical tip I can give is to choose a mantra. The truest thing you can come up with, that defines it or sets it at ease. Repeat it to yourself all day. My most recent mantra during a time like this was "I can't know what will happen, but I trust Christ, and for now I'm in pain." Another good one was once President Packer's stern voice saying John, leave it alone. Good luck! and let me know if you figure out something new that works. Or a new way of framing the suggestions already made. I could use as much help with this as I can get!
Best and most gentle wishes,
*Subconscious brain-time is valuable. This is the thinking you get done while you're brushing your teeth, taking your seat, or the extra computing power you have while you do your boring job. I believe this is where the spirit speaks, where we daydream, solve problems, and really see other people. It's also where my anxiety thrives.
**This is pretty arbitrary, and totally shot from the hip. But the breakdown looks like this: 12 waking hours a day, 50% is subconscious thinking yielded over to obsessing = 6 hours a day for the last 7 days = 49 hours.