Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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What are you like at waiting? Do you put things out of your mind and forget about them until they happen? Do you worry about what might go wrong? Are you impatient for the time to come?
Most of us will think a lot about a future event that we expect to be enjoyable, we’ll imagine what is going to happen, how we might feel and react, who else will be there and what conversations we might have with them. This is a kind of mental preparation that will often be accompanied by preparation of a practical nature, maybe organising the event, or planning the journey; buying clothes, perhaps writing a speech. Similarly, sports people will typically have a ritual they go through before competing – a preparation that is both mental and practical, intended to give themselves the best chance of success.
Through these build-ups we increase our level of excitement for the anticipated event, and we can heighten its importance in our mind. And so events which, perhaps to others looking from the outside, seem insignificant, can become big things for us, carrying the chance to leave us feeling buoyed up when they meet our expectations, or disappointed if they don’t.
But what if you are not looking forward to the event? How do you deal with a forthcoming visit to the dentist, a job interview, a visit from your in-laws? Some people tend to deal with such events by not thinking about them, while others can’t get them out of their minds. I have often seen these different approaches in work I do with couples. One might say “I’ll worry about it when it happens” and find it very difficult to understand why their partner is pre-occupied with the upcoming event. The other might be constantly worrying about what might go wrong and feel that their partner is insensitive and uncaring.
Although these two positions can be polar opposites, I think that often they are co-dependent. The worrier feels that they need to keep thinking about the event, to go through it again and again, partly because their partner seems completely disinterested. The person who can forget about it until it happens feels that there’s no point in them getting wound up about it – there’s enough worrying going on already. And so each partner can become entrenched in the way they wait for things, and this can become a pattern that repeats itself again and again throughout the relationship.
If this is something that causes stress in your relationship, it can be helpful to recognise that you and your partner are in this together and that both your approaches are valid ones. And it can be helpful to move towards some middle ground. By this I mean that the worrier may find it helpful to adopt a more structured approach to the issue, making lists of their fears, ranking them, and developing contingency plans. And their partner can help with this, but may need to accept that the worrier needs to air their concerns, maybe at length, and maybe in an unstructured way, before they can move to a different way of dealing with things.
When we are waiting for an event we are anxious about, we can, perversely, find ourselves looking forward to it – in the sense that we are looking forward to it being over. Last week I went to the dentist – it wasn’t something that I was particularly concerned about, or at least I didn’t think so. But when I arrived the dentist was standing outside the surgery sunning himself because there had been a power cut. All appointments off! And suddenly I felt a sense of relief that I didn’t have to sit in his chair and let him grope around in my mouth. And then, of course, there followed the realisation that I would have to rebook my appointment and the waiting would start again…