Relationship Fitness

S17 Focus E1: Mentally Stuck

In “Relationship Workout for Men,” Season 17 Episode 1 titled “Mentally Stuck,” Vince introduces the theme of focus as a core strength in sustaining long-term relationships. This episode delves into the challenges couples face when they feel stuck and disconnected, emphasizing the necessity to work through issues to maintain a strong, fun, and happy relationship. Vince presents a scenario illustrating the intense conflicts that can arise, highlighting the destructive cycle of blame and anger that can ensue. Through this, he sets the stage for exploring strategies to move past being mentally stuck, fostering a renewed sense of connection and commitment within the relationship. This episode serves as a call to action, encouraging listeners to confront and resolve the underlying issues that lead to feelings of stagnation, with the promise of more in-depth discussions on overcoming these challenges in future episodes.

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 17 Episode 1: Mentally Stuck

In this season 17, we’ll explore the Relationship Workout Core #14: Focus, and the foundational relationship question: “Do you have the gumption to continue to work through all the inevitable issues in your relationship?” A very relevant question for anyone in a relationship for the long term.

So Why is Focus a Core Strength Area?

Occasionally to frequently, life presents tough issues that can lead to you feeling really stuck in your relationship, feeling increasingly disconnected, as the fun and happiness felt being together seem to vanish into a pool of distant memories.

The longer you stay in these stuck stretches, the more at risk you become to losing interest in resolving issues in the relationship and losing interest in staying together all together. It’s probably safe to say that many to most long-term relationships have found themselves struggling in these types of dry spells. 

The thing is you’ll have to resolve whatever issues are leading to the disconnect — even the most challenging ones — to get back on track to having a strong relationship full of fun and happiness, versus one constantly teetering on feeling issue embattled miserable.

Okay, so let’s play out a scenario:

The storm has hit and it’s a doozy — a real showstopper, the mother of all dilemmas. She’s head-popping-off mad. You’re well on your way to being head-popping-off mad as well if you aren’t already. 

You did this. She did that. The blame game is ready to go into full throttle: poised to throw cutting accusations with deadly accuracy. Anger and anxiety fill the room with tension so thick it can become hard to breathe. I’m right, you’re wrong. She’s a bitch. You’re an ass.

Your best fight-or-flight instincts hit you with a vengeance now. You either go mano a mano as you’ll be damned if you’re going to let her win; or you go into protective, defensive mode responding to the onslaught only to find yourself being rolled over in this battle of the bludgeon; or you’ll just shut down all together and leave — enough of this bull crap you think!

She needs this. You need that. No alignment anywhere. Initial frustration turn the angry card as words fall on deaf ears. Compromise by now seems all but a foreign language that neither of you speak. I must get my way!

Yes, regardless of all your best intentions, right now, this very moment, you two are fighting in the boxcars. And it’s getting f-ugly.

So, what do you do? 

Do you keep on fighting — my ego against yours? Winner takes all. 

Do you throw up your hands in disgust and leave things unresolved? Of course, you know the problem will just resurface in the future, but at least for now it feels like reprieve.

Do you just fold up the tent and walk away for good? This issue takes the cake — so close, but too far. I’m out of here. Besides, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Next!

How many months have you two been together? Maybe you’ve been dating for quite a while…perhaps years. Maybe you’re married and even have children. In any case, you probably have some level of feelings for each other. How many times have you shared the words “I love you”? 

No, walking away this very moment might not be quite so easy. 

Emotionally, this is a miserable place to be. Angry. Disillusioned. Confused. Hurt. Flooded with angry thoughts. 

You’re mentally stuck. Stuck throwing bricks at each other in the boxcars. Stuck wondering whether to proceed with the relationship. Stuck in negative thoughts. Stopped. Face-planted. Yard sale. No answers. 

So, what are you going to do?

Yes, you’re screwed, but kind of in a good way, philosophically speaking. Let me try to explain, switching gears for a moment into a metaphor drawn from the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Let’s say you have a motorcycle that hasn’t started for months. It’s a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon and you’re supposed to go golfing with your buddies. Instead, you tell them you’re going to stay home and fix the bike. One of your buddies who happens to be a mechanic razzes you a bit. “What do you know about fixing motorcycles?” he lays into you with laughing jest. You kid back that you weren’t always the corporate giant that you are now, and, in fact, in high school you fixed a motorcycle or two. Everyone laughs as they wish you lots of luck. 

So here you are in the garage, manual in hand and broken bike before you. The next step is to remove a single, simple screw. This screw happens to hold the side cover assembly that you need to remove so you can get at the engine. Simple enough. No biggie. 

Screwdriver in hand, you try to turn the screw, but it sticks. You try harder, but it’s just not going to turn. You know better than to try too hard, otherwise you might strip the screw head. You look in the manual and check to see if there’s any reason the screw might be so difficult to remove. All the manual says is to remove the screw. No help there.

Without much thought, you go get your vise grips. You have some vague memory from your teenage years that this will do the trick. As you clamp down and turn, suddenly the whole screw head tears completely off. 

It’s a clean tear, and you’re at the issue’s ground zero.

Crap! How are you going to remove that damn screw now? You can’t fix the bike without removing the side cover assembly, and you can’t remove the side cover assembly without removing that damn screw. You have no idea what to do next. You’re stuck. At this point your mind can go in any number of directions; here are three common ones:

One, frustration. Here you are on a beautiful Saturday afternoon staring at a stupid screw when you could be knocking back a cold one with your buddies. The more you think about it, the more frustrated you get to the point where you want to take a hammer and pound that stupid screw into oblivion.

Two, embarrassment and shame. What the heck were you doing trying to fix the motorcycle in the first place? You should have known better and paid a mechanic to do the job — someone who knows what they’re doing.

Three, disgust. You throw your hands up and walk away, leaving that motorcycle more broken than when you began.

Regardless of which direction you take, every passing minute you spend thinking negative thoughts about that screw only makes things worse. Impatience builds. Anxiety builds. Anger builds. 

What a disaster. Pardon the pun, but you’re royally screwed. Screwed just throwing bricks at yourself in the boxcar.

It’s time to take a step back to take a step forward.

Yes, if you step back for a moment and take a deep breath, one thing you might realize is that this screw is not going to get unstuck purely by you yelling at it. Negative thoughts about the screw aren’t going to get it out either. Pounding it to oblivion might get it out but destroy the motorcycle in the process. That’s not the answer.

What’s needed is a re-evaluation of the situation, so you can move forward again.

Let’s start with the premise that the screw being stuck isn’t the worst of all situations, but the best of all situations — a moment not to fear or lash out at, but one that is to be cultivated and nurtured. This may be hard to believe given that torn screw in front of you. But it’s true.

And it’s time to get to beginner’s mind.

If you’re serious about getting that screw out, a good place to start is to empty all negative thoughts spinning in your head about that screw and this life situation. A mind filled with thoughts of anger, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, or any other negativity doesn’t leave room for solution thinking. All you can think about is the negativity. 

Likewise, empty your mind of foregone conclusions. A mind that thinks it already knows the answer doesn’t leave room to hear additional information that might alter those conclusions.

With a cleared “beginner’s” mind, you’re now open to new ideas because you’re not attached to old ones. In this direction, unencumbered brainstorming is allowed to percolate. Curiosity and creativity are given a chance to pay a visit. You’re getting yourself out at the front end of the train ready to head toward that quality track.

For the next step, and with your Beginner’s Mind engaged, just stare at the screw. If you stare at the screw long enough, all sort of ideas will eventually jump in. Unless you’re a real master at staying in negative thoughts, you can’t help this. Remember not to let your mind wander into completely irrelevant areas. Stay focused. You’re ready to expand your knowledge about this issue.

You’re ready to start fishing for facts.

Indeed, as you continue to stare at the screw, you’ll want to start fishing for facts that might help in coming up with new ideas. But which facts about this dilemma should you observe and consider to help you to find a solution? The color of the paint job? The size of the bike? The size of the screw? The miles on the odometer?

In fact, there are an infinite number of facts you could observe about the issue, and the helpful ones aren’t going to do a tap dance while shouting “look at me, look at me!” 

No, the facts you really need can not only be passive, but they can also be downright elusive. Especially if your emotions are still on edge, you’re not going to be able to just sit back and observe the facts that will solve the issue. Rather, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and go in looking for them. This means you must care enough to start digging!

And this gets us to thinking about subjects and objects.

So, as you stare at that screw, one little fact might just stare right back at you and slap you upside the head if you’re paying attention. Here’s a clue: Have you been thinking about yourself as the subject that acts upon the screw as the object? You turn the screw to the left and it’s supposed to open. You turn the screw to the right and it’s supposed to tighten. You do this to it and the results are supposed to be that. 

When you think in terms of subjects and objects, your thoughts can get very rigid. You turned the screw to the left and it was supposed to open! But the screw didn’t turn, now what? If you stay frozen with rigid subject-object thoughts, you limit your ability to see new ideas. The screw didn’t turn like it was supposed to, which is why you became stuck in the first place!

As an object, you might have thought of this screw as having little value. You probably created in your mind a general category called “screw” and lumped this screw into it with all the other screws. Need one? Just go to the local hardware store and buy one for mere pennies.

However, with a re-evaluation of the situation, you might see this particular screw much less as a valueless object to be lumped into a general category. In fact, the more you think about it, the more you may realize that this particular screw is rather unique as it sits headless in your side assembly. In fact, there is not another screw quite like this one anywhere. Not a one.

Now as you continue to look at that screw, you’ll stop looking at what the screw is. What the screw is has little importance in resolving the issue. Instead, you’ll start looking at the screw for what it does. You’ll start asking functional questions. How does the screw turn? What might be keeping that screw from turning?

Yes, you’ll get to functional thinking.

With this functional line of thinking, you might fish for further facts as your mind starts filling with new ideas. Are there solvents that can help loosen the screw? Can you drill it out? What would applying heat do to the screw? You’re now in front of the train, not stuck in the boxcar anymore. By staying open and continuing to care, you’re allowing your creative juices to flow.

If your ego is not controlling you, then you might think of where you could go for help. Ego has a terrible way of keeping you in a boxcar, too afraid of exposing that you’ve made a mistake or don’t know something. Perhaps you’ll go to the local hardware store and ask for help? Perhaps you’ll call your mechanic golf buddy and ask for his advice?

And if you keep staring at that screw allowing your mind to explore new ideas, you might even come up with a totally new way to remove a stuck screw. Who knows, this may be the seed of an invention that you could patent, and which will make you wealthy beyond belief.

Regardless of the solution you eventually deploy, you will have grown from the experience. That stuck screw, the same one that you were swearing at just minutes or hours before has helped to better you as a person. Not only have you broadened your knowledge about how to fix a stuck screw, but you’ve also proved to yourself (hopefully, yet again) that you can resolve the inevitable challenges that life brings your way.

So, with this realization that being screwed isn’t all that bad, let’s get back to that real showstopper, mother of all issues creating drama and separating you and your partner, and that’s the topic of our next episode: Mother of All Issues.

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