I noticed something one day when my kids were young. The days when I had a long ambitious list of goals (dishes, laundry, groceries, exercise, planting a vegetable garden, painting the bathroom...you get the idea), I became resentful of my children for getting in the way. I would snap at them for not napping long enough, I would inwardly groan at a request for another story, I felt brittle with frustration.
Other days, however, when I had no expectations of accomplishing anything, I thoroughly enjoyed my kids. If we felt like going outside to the swing set, that's what we did. If we chose to bake cookies, that's what we did. We napped when tired, woke when rested, played when the urge struck. In short, we had a good day.
I'm reminded of this because I recently watched a short video on self-compassion in which this advice was offered: Reduce expectations to zero.
And it struck me that this is not only excellent advice for moms at home with young children but also for those of us who are dealing with the discovery of a partner's affair.
My expectations during that horrible time were ridiculous. I not only expected myself to know how to respond to this unprecedented marital crisis, I expected myself to be able to function the same as I had the day before the bomb hit. To prepare dinner, to help children with homework, to meet my work deadlines.
Reduce expectations to zero.
What this means is immediate triage for your soul. Focus on three things only:
1. Eat enough food that you don't die. More, if possible.
2. Sleep, even if it requires the help of sleep-aids, such as melatonin, Gravol or something your doctor prescribed to help you. (Avoid alcohol or illegal drugs. The idea isn't to make things worse.)
3. Breathe. In and out. In and out. Deeply if possible. If the idea of breathing is more than you can bear, please reach out for help. A suicide hotline. A trusted friend. A doctor.
Here's what you should not focus on right now. Remember, reduce expectations to zero.
•Will my marriage survive? Who knows. Not you right now so don't expect to know. Give yourself time to absorb the shock right now. Clarity will come with time.
•Is he lying to me? Probably. You likely don't have all the information right now. But that's okay. You'll come to realize there are things you don't need to know. What you do know – that he cheated on you – is enough right now.
•Will my life ever be the same? Nope. But that's not the same as saying it won't be great. I promise you will get through this. You will not feel this pain forever. You will laugh again. You will feel joy again. I don't know what your life will look like and neither do you. Even if he hadn't cheated, none of us knows what the future holds. We never did.
Reduce expectations to zero: Eat, sleep, breathe.
There will, undoubtedly, be other demands. You might have children that required parenting. You might have work that requires doing. There are some things we just can't avoid. But reduce expectations to zero. Just getting out of bed is a Herculean feat so give yourself a huge hug for doing so.
The day will come for figuring things out. The day will come for choices. The day will come for achievement. But right now, the day has come for self-compassion and self-care, for triage of your soul.
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