Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do, I just can’t do anything right. I try my hardest but sometimes I fail.

What do you do when your hardest isn’t good enough?

As someone with a masters in psychology you’d think I have all the answers when it comes to relationships. But the truth is, just because I can diagnose a problem, and I know clinical approaches. It doesn’t make it any easier to deal with them and sometimes it makes them worse. 

Same Argument Different Day 

In my marriage (14 years and counting) I feel we get stuck arguing about the same thing in different ways. Most of our arguments are  about how much time I spend engaged with the family. I know I can be a space case, but I do try my best to use mindfulness  techniques(focus on what people are saying, stay off my phone, show appreciation to the people around me), to stay present. 

Stubbornly set in my routine

Psychologists Stephenie and Elisha Goldstein, talk about how to apply mindfulness to the family in their works. But, even though I know these techniques, and I apply them. I still fall into the trap of being set in my routine (waking up, marital arts training ,running ,working out and going to work).

On the other hand,  having a routine is another important part of mindfulness and Zen. I love my routine, it helps me manage my stress (running a business, being an Expat in Japan, being the main income provider etc.). The problem arises when my routine is broken by a stressful event (sickness, injury, family emergency). 

Trying to do it all and failing 

While exercising, working out until your muscles fail is considered a good thing. But maybe that philosophy should stay in the gym. Sometimes I don’t  seem to know when to just focus on the issue that is throwing me off my game. If something comes up I try to take care of what I’m asked to do, while at the same time doing what I usually do. This drives my wife nuts and leads me to overloading my schedule (routine failure if you will). 

Wife: Why don’t you just skip the routine? Do you have to work out Monday through Friday? One day off won’t kill you. 

She’s right, but if I don’t go through with it I feel like shit. But if I do go through it, it makes me feel like a “bad father” that neglected the family (I wish I can be at two places at once). 

Sacrifice, Sacrifice and Sacrifice some more

A study in the Journal of Happiness found that the more social support (sacrifice) a partner reported giving to their spouse, the higher the couple would rank when it came to marital satisfaction. 

But, if  this is done to often it can lead to resentment. I don’t resent my partner, but I know she resents my work out schedule. We get to this point where we both feel we are sacrificing too much. I feel I sacrificed everything (career in psychology, friends & family in California) to support her here in Japan. She feels that she sacrificed everything (career as a preschool teacher in California, friends) to come back to Japan, to support her aging parents. 

Being a Zen master 

Knowing about Zen doesn’t make you a Zen master (and even Zen masters get divorced). Meaning that if you get caught up thinking that your impervious to relationship issues, that’s when things can get really ugly. There’s a zen proverb:

A fool that thinks he is wise is the biggest fool. 

This is why it’s important to stay modest and know when I’m over intellectualizing a problem. At this point staying calm and addressing it is the only thing I can do. Couples argue and it’s actually part of a healthy relationship. It’s the couples that no longer argue or communicate that are at a high risk for a divorce, because  they are dealing with their disagreements by not talking about them (which leads to the resentment I was talking about earlier). 

Although being a Zen master won’t prevent you from having arguments, having a healthy set of coping strategies is better than going in blind. My degree in psychology allows me to see what is happening, but I still need to work on what to do after the fact. 

What coping strategies do you use to handle arguments with your partner? Feel free to share in the comments section below!

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Angelo Ferrer (M.S. Psychology/Editor) 

Have a story about relationships that you would like to share? Feel free to contact me to have it published on my site! 

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