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Craig and his wife, Nikki, enjoy the great outdoors surrounding Bend, Oregon

More Happiness in the COVID-19 Era?

In any relationship (Personal or Business), if we can’t be happy together at home in the “shelter in place COVID-19 era”, maybe we need to look in the mirror and be the change. That doesn’t mean you leave your partner, spouse or family and make a new life, it means we find greater happiness in ourselves and it may mean we take this COVID-19 era opportunity to create new better habits together.

The quote about how long it takes to form a new habit goes like this – “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.” Since so many self-help authors have written about making new habits and how long it takes to do so, I decided to find the genesis of that quote and it appears to be here in Psycho-Cybernetics (audiobook) by Maxwell Maltz. I’ve now purchased the book.

Interestingly to me, as I searched a little more I found this study that suggests it takes over 2 months to form a new habit. With that amount of time to be invested, it makes sense to be very intentional about it and that we work to form “good habits” in our personal, family and professional lives.

While personal life and family life are intertwined, I separated them for that same reason to make sure that I’m a better me for me, making me better for my family and my customers, partners, and peers.

Part of making me better is a focus on physical and mental health. The book Younger Next Year has been my go-to for years now, though please don’t buy this book for yourself and then force on your partner or spouse. In 2014, I started on a more intentional fitness path that prepares me for an annual backcountry mountain bike ride on the Kokopelli Trail from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT. The preparation and ride make me better for me, my family and my customers, partners, and peers. You see the theme here.

Now back to the “shelter in place COVID-19 era” and a few observations:

First, my wife Nikki and I are having a blast together. Never perfect, though almost. Same as it was in the pre-COVID-19 era, but slightly better.

Second, we are watching a ton of shows and movies and I really liked the Dolly Parton themed movie Dumplin’ (Netflix). I really enjoyed the Dolly quote “Find out who you are. And do it on purpose”. Too many people (I’ve done it before too) felt others needed to change when we just needed to be a little happier with ourselves.

Third, what’s made Nikki’s and my time together in this COVID-19 era very special are the following, some old and some new:
– WE each have stopped sweating the small stuff

– WE laugh a lot

– WE are not pouting when the other doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, go for a walk, clean the house or do anything when we feel it needs to happen. If you do this pouty thing now, please STOP. Instead, one of us goes to the grocery store, goes for a walk, cleans the house or does anything when we feel it needs to happen and NOT guilt the other.

– WE have always functioned as a team to each do our share of the above OR other critical matters not listed above, like earning a living. It’s a balance, we talk about it and make sure we each give mutually so that one person doesn’t need to do everything.

– WE have added new work, fun, activities, chores, and hobbies that will hopefully become a HABIT alongside those in our pre-COVID lives that will continue to make us better together.

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“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” – C.S. Lewis

What if, during this time of forced Sheltering-in-Place… for those of us beyond the stage of homeschooling our children—we homeschool ourselves in a study of our spouses?

Undoubtedly, our family unit will begin to get on each other’s nerves (it’s bound to happen with social confinement). For me, this will most likely occur with my husband.

When I first met my husband John, I was drawn like a moth-to-flame by his effervescent joy. He attracted people with his overflowing love for others. His nickname was Smiley Riley for a reason. And twenty-five years ago, before we’d even started dating—after I’d experienced a very painful breakup—I found myself praying just to be friends with John; I wanted his “brightness” in my life too. Fortunately, our friendship eventually shifted, and a little more than a year later we were married.

As a couple, we demonstrated that wonderful dichotomy Christians refer to as “Complementary Personalities.” We were so eager to see how God would use John’s and my strengths to make this perfect overlap happen in our marriage. How naive we were to think it would just happen as soon as we said, “I Do” – and without its own uncomfortable transformational journey.

What I initially admired in John, that extroverted “life of the party” personality, soon became an anchor tied to my own mental health. Especially, as I compared his strength to my perceived weakness—my own introverted nature…and found mine lacking in comparison.

Following his lead, either led to me participating in activities that depleted my social reserves within minutes, or I found myself getting internally defensive and attacking all the shortcomings of extroverts everywhere.

For John, the oh-so organized, always had a plan, deep thinking Stephanie that he was so initially attracted to (as his perfect complement), turned into someone that sought control far too much and was a stick-in-the-mud when it came to Friday nights out…or any other night for that matter.

At least we weren’t alone. Everywhere we turned, our fellow “couples friends” were also discovering similar differences in their relationships during those first few years of marriage.

For some, what drew them initially “in the hunt of dating” wasn’t even an accurate representation of who they truly were after they married. For others, the portrayals were realistic, but the differences created chasms that grew insidiously—until the divide became so wide, it could no longer be bridged.

And then there were others of us who initially gutted it out, but over time have invested in better understanding who we are as a couple, and as individuals.

I have spent a lot of time over the years inspired by the insight of those who study personalities. From “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”, to the study of the “Five Love Languages”—and snippets of understanding began to unfold for John and me.

In more recent years, studies of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Assessment highlighted the unique ways we are both hard-wired, while a study into the Enneagram, pointed to what motivates our personality traits.

According to the MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Index) John is the “Entertainer”, while I am the “Defender”. In our cases, his Type 7 (Adventurer) and my Type 2 (Helper) Enneagrams closely match in descriptions. His “life of the party/make everyone smile persona” is at its best in large groups or with every stranger he comes into contact with–from the cashier at the drive through, to our waiter, or whoever is behind the counter in a store.

But, confine the guy to being alone at home and his physical and emotional health withers before my eyes. Right now, during this quarantine, he craves connection and attention, and giving attention to others.

For me, as a social introvert—I have been training all my life “for such a time as this”.  I have my close family members, folks I can deeply connect with easily through social media (a common misnomer – social introverts crave connection just as much, but we prefer small group interactions). The aspect of my “planning personality” is taking a huge hit right now, as the upcoming months in my Day-Timer have been completely erased. My not being able to plan into the future, due to the unpredictability of the pandemic, draws me even more inward.

Can you see the potential clash here, ready to blow, in our small shelter of confinement?

My propensity to draw inward makes John want to play tug-o-war and pull me out of my shelter even more. In contrast, his need for attention just makes me want to ignore him to stop the behavior. It doesn’t necessarily help that our “third roommate,” our 18-year-old daughter, has a very similar personality type to mine. So, I’ll often feel vindicated because I’m not alone in my irritable responses.

However, I’m painfully aware, just because we are in the majority—it does not mean we are right.

So, while in forced confinement with my spouse—I’ve decided that rather than spend the time irritated by behaviors that happen because of how uniquely and perfectly God created him—I’ve decided to spend some time studying him and better understanding “why he is who he is.”

I’m opting to spend some time exploring his values instead of just mine, and trying to understand what makes him feel the most content? And while I’m at it, perhaps spend a little bit of time recognizing my own shortcomings—the ones that are a result of my own unhealthy coping mechanisms through life…and start working on healing.

It seems like everyone is “having to homeschool” these days, so I might as well join in. You’d think after twenty-five years of studying a subject, I’d have a Ph.D. or at least have graduated—but, as I’ve discovered time and time again, my marriage is always going to be a subject requiring continuing education.

If you’d like to try the free assessments of the personality tests mentioned in this article, the links are provided below:

Enneagram:
https://assessment.yourenneagramcoach.com/

Meyers-Briggs Personality Test:
https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

*I Do Part Two does not have a affiliate marketing relationship with Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs Personality Test

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