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How I Learned to Avoid Overreacting

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Illustration of man standing on a ladder in his garage, struggling with a water hose wrapped around his neck
Nathan Yoder
I used to overreact. Now I seek clarity before reacting in communication with my wife. I slow down and examine my heart before engaging.

You never know what deadly creature you might encounter in an attic. Last year I climbed a ladder to the attic above my garage and was opening the access panel when something brown and green dropped onto my shoulder and coiled around my neck. I’d never crossed paths with a rattlesnake before, but I was certain that one was now hugging my neck. I briefly considered jumping off the ladder onto the concrete floor of our garage. Maybe if I land hard on my shoulder, I thought, it will stun the snake and scare it away.

Seconds before I would have jumped and dislocated my shoulder, I got a better look at the venomous serpent. It was actually a garden hose.

What a relief! But I’d almost done something really stupid to avoid being fatally wounded by an innocuous piece of tubing.

How often do we react before we really know what kind of problem we’re facing? I’ve done it many times in my marriage. And I’ve tried to solve problems for my wife, Wendy, only to realize later that she never saw them as problems. As a result, I’ve become angry about things she’s said before I realized that her comments weren’t meant to be hurtful.

I’m learning, quite literally, to look before I leap. Here’s how I do that:

I slow down before overreacting.

The faster I think, the fuzzier I think. One of the greatest ways to strengthen my connection with my wife is to slow down my reactions and wait for clarity before I respond to a situation.

I examine my heart.

There’s a reason my mind immediately thought snake when that hose fell on me: I’m afraid of snakes. In the same way, I’m sometimes quick to draw conclusions about Wendy’s behavior or words because of what I’m afraid of or what I dislike, not because of what she’s actually done or said. I need to check myself. If I want garden hoses to be less threatening, I need to face my fear of snakes.

Every once in a while, I come across that garden hose in our garage. It reminds me to push the pause button on my reactions until I can really get clarity about the problem.

 

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