Relationship Fitness

S17 Focus E5: Internal Hang-Up Gumption Traps

In “Relationship Workout for Men,” Season 17 Episode 5 titled “Internal Hang-Up Gumption Traps,” Vince navigates the internal barriers that hinder personal growth and impact relationship dynamics. He categorizes these internal obstacles into four main areas: Value Rigidity, Ego, Anxiety, and Boredom, each presenting unique challenges to personal and relational development. Through the example of a couple experiencing tension while returning a faulty phone, Vince illustrates how Value Rigidity can cloud judgment and prevent open-mindedness to new information. The episode emphasizes the importance of flexibility, self-awareness, and the willingness to reconsider one’s stance to foster healthier communication and connection within relationships, advocating for overcoming these traps through understanding, patience, and concerted effort to support mutual growth and satisfaction.

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 5: Internal Hang-Up Gumption Traps

Internal hang-up gumption traps are by far the largest area and can be extremely nasty and elusive to identify, because they happen from within. With a hang-up, there is no phone call outlining the exact external circumstance that threatens to ruin your plans. There’s no obvious blinking light to alert you. 

As such, hang-up gumption traps can be categorized into four “trap” areas: Value Rigidity, Ego, Anxiety and Boredom. Let’s discuss each one.

First, the Value Rigidity gumption trap

Value Rigidity is an inability to revalue new information because of a commitment to a previous value. Basically, when you think you already absolutely know the answer, then the emergence of a new fact that doesn’t support the answer locked in your head will be given zero value. You’re convinced you already know the real deal so there’s no need to consider new info.

As an example, let’s say you and your partner are at the store returning a phone that after only a few months doesn’t work properly anymore. The store ends up being super busy, so what you thought would take only fifteen minutes or so is now looking like a much longer ordeal. You’d like to stay and just get this piece of junk replaced and the task off your to-do list. Your partner, on the other hand, is thoroughly frustrated and absolutely wants to leave. Pronto. This very second. No questions asked.

The store is packed, but the salesperson is now (finally) standing right in front of you tapping her foot wondering what you want to do. Hurry up. It’s your turn. All is happening so fast. What do you do? 

Do you get upset with your partner for wanting to leave so quickly? Perhaps you’ve judged her negatively, thinking she’s being impatient, unreasonable, and immature. 

If you do, then you’ll get locked in this blame framing of the issue, robbing yourself of the ability to consider other facts that may be relevant. You’re locked onto an original position. Replace phone now. Value Rigidity has you in its grip.

You’ve allowed yourself to be robbed of the gumption needed to fish for new facts. She has already been found guilty without ever explaining why she’s so adamant about leaving, or getting the benefit of the doubt that she might have a good reason to want to go so abruptly.

In reality, she may have some very specific reason why she feels a need to leave this very second. Perhaps there was another appointment she wanted to make. Perhaps she had an extremely important call she needed to make. If you listen to her story from a place of openness and flexibility, you might find that what she has to say does change your thoughts at this moment. 

If you stay flexible and give her the chance to share her story, you may realize she wasn’t being unreasonable at all. Rather, the issue was that you two hadn’t communicated beforehand and she had a specific timeline for a packed morning schedule that allocated only fifteen minutes to returning the phone.

By staying open, you realize that the solution is for you two to do a better job communicating schedules, and not to jump to Value Rigidity and negative judgments.

Second there are Ego Gumption Traps

Ego is not entirely separate from Value Rigidity, but one of the many causes of it. 

When you have a high valuation of yourself, then your ability to see new facts is weakened. You tend to accept only the facts that support your heightened opinion of yourself. When the facts show that you contributed something to the issue, then you’re much less likely to accept them as valid. You may even try to discredit these facts or at least take attention away from them. Conversely, when false facts make you look good, then you’ll tend to accept these as true.

Therefore, if your partner brings up her story, and if this story reveals your part in contributing to the issue, then you’re likely to devalue what she has to say. Likewise, if a friend supports your side of the story, which protects your ego’s innocence (often without hearing your partner’s side of the story), then you’re likely to value your friend’s opinion. And if you respect your friend more than your partner, and your ego controls your mind, then you’re much less likely to accept and believe what your partner has to say.

For the person with the ego, the vulnerability is that he or she will keep fighting in the boxcars wanting to win and be right. This person could have an infinite amount of gumption to devote to fighting, but this doesn’t move the train forward toward a mutually agreeable solution. This is just energy devoted to protecting one’s ego, often fueled from a place of anger, hurt and/or insecurities. This is not actual gumption for the sake of finding a mutually agreeable solution.

For the other person, the gumption trap vulnerability is around giving up. She’s not listening to what you have to say because her ego’s Value Rigidity puts her in a place to not value what you have to say. Contempt often finds its way into these conversations as she continues to devalue your attempts to communicate your story. “That’s stupid!” “You’re insane!” “You’re a jerk!” On and on it can go. You’re stuck in the boxcar. You can hear your gumption leaking away.

If your ego kicks in, then you become defensive and/or offensive. Now, round and round you go in the boxcar. Blaming. Fighting. Both of you just reciting the facts that support each of your arguments. When this happens, “facts” can also become distorted as you both recall events only in the light that make each of you shine and the other look in someway diminished.

The result? Gumption to resolve the issue gets lost. You’re both off the quality track. Remember, all you can control are your thoughts and your actions. Not hers. If she’s under control by her ego, then at least listen to her side of the story. Play it strong and admit to your contributions. It’s okay; no one said you’re perfect. No doubt she’ll dig up stuff on you if she’s ego-driven.

Over time, if you find that she just wants to keep fighting in the boxcars and not go on the quality track with you (which includes her owning up to her contributions), then you can make the decision to move on without her. This is not losing gumption. This is being realistic that this relationship’s RGQ is just too WEAK. It’s not fun nor healthy nor happy to continuously fight against someone’s ego. You want to devote your energy — and your gumption — to finding and being with someone who can meet you on the quality track. Inflated egos need not apply next time.

Third, we have the Anxiety Gumption Trap

Anxiety Gumption Traps are the opposite of those related to ego. You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong that you’re afraid to do anything at all. It’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm to start fishing for facts, because you’re sure you’ll be found to be at fault, or at least told you’re completely at fault.

You can become vulnerable to anxiety traps when the person you’re with is constantly pointing out your faults. It feels like you’re forever under the microscope, as your every movement is scrutinized.

Feeling scrutinized like this can create a lot of nervousness. Nervousness can then lead to errors. These errors tend to confirm the original low estimation of yourself (especially when the other person is more than willing to point out your mistakes). This leads to further underestimation of yourself, and further into the anxiety trap you fall.

It’s important to note that a mistake that is pointed out may not be a mistake on your part. It could just be a difference of opinion or a simple miscommunication between the two of you. It could be that the other person’s ego just needs to get propped up by knocking you down.

It’s also important to note that you could just be way over-sensitive to faults being pointed out. That microscope you’re feeling could very well be your own insecurity and negative self-examination. Since you’re not perfect, there will be times when someone can point out stuff that can help you to grow. Since your partner probably sees you quite frequently, she may very well be in the best position to see your potential areas of improvement.

Ironically, an anxiety trap is often fueled by over-motivation, rather than laziness. You want to do things right. You do feel you can add value. Unfortunately, the harder you try, the more mistakes that are pointed out. Perhaps her ego is just too much for your insecurity.

In any case, you can reduce your anxiety by cutting yourself some slack. You’re not perfect and that’s okay. A commitment to quality means you want to discover your weaknesses so you can grow and be an even better partner.

You can further reduce your anxiety by realizing that her own ego’s insecurity is leading her to point out your faults. You don’t have to own nor personalize her stuff. You also don’t have control over her ego either.

In fact, you can only control your own actions and your own ego. Next time you find yourself under a microscope from your partner, take a deep breath, relax and smile. It’s okay if you screw it up. It’s okay if you don’t get it just right. You will have scored either way if after you’re done you realize you felt at least a bit less nervous than the last time you did something like this. When this happens, you’re getting out of the boxcar and getting out in front of the train.

And finally the fourth internal gumption trap is Boredom.

Some issues really are tough to crack, the true mother of all dilemmas.

You’ve been going round and round on what feels like the same old, tired conversation. There’s no 12-round maximum for this battle. No boxing referee ready to call a draw or hand one of you the decision. No, round and round you two can go with no resolution in sight. When this happens, you’re vulnerable to stepping into the Boredom Gumption Trap.

The Boredom Gumption Trap feels like you’re covering the same old ground for the hundredth time. You’ve been stuck in the same old boxcar for what feels like forever. Your curiosity has gone missing-in-action as not a fresh idea or hypothesis comes to mind. All you can think about is “Here we go again!” and “I’m so tired of this!”

Boredom is largely the opposite of anxiety as any enthusiasm you once had to discuss the issue went limp long ago. Boredom means you’re off the quality track, you’re not seeing things freshly. You’ve lost your Beginner’s Mind. Boredom means your gumption supply is low and must be replenished before anything else is done.

Boredom often goes hand in hand with ego traps and value rigidity. The reason you’re going round and round on the same issue is that ego has kept you stuck fighting in this boxcar. When there is Value Rigidity, even the fresh ideas get stomped on if they don’t support the ego’s case.

When one or both of you have stepped into the boredom trap, then stop! Don’t even try to work on the issue unless you both have replenished the gumption. If you keep fighting, you run the risk of going yet another round and falling further into the Boredom Gumption Trap. 

Go do something fun together. Go dancing. See a movie. Cook a nice dinner together. Have sex (and lots of it). Just do what you two like to do for fun and build feelings of connected-ness. All the while, don’t think about the issue. Replenish the laughter so you can replenish the gumption.

So those are the four internal, hang-up gumption traps, which go along with the external setback gumption trap discussed in the previous episode.

One last point, once you two have discovered the solution that resolves the issue, you’ll notice that the solution is often quite simple. The solution was right in front of you the whole time. It’s the process of finding the solution that can be so elusive. 

In the next episode, I’d like to share a personal story when an external setback gumption trap played a visit around Thanksgiving in the episode: Eating Turkey?

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