Marriage - The Mouse vs. The Elephant

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Recently in marriage counseling one of my clients told me she goes into “mouse mode” when the possibility of conflict arises with her husband.  

Mouse mode has a real feel to it - Her voice gets small and a look of pain wraps tightly around her face.  She sighs heavily, and the act of shrinking seems to drain her strength.  Going into mouse mode means that she must suppress her thoughts and emotions which can be exhausting.  The result is that a familiar fatigue is added to the anxiety she already feels in such interactions.  

As we explore this phenomena further it becomes apparent to all of us that mouse mode is unsustainable and the inevitable release that must come from regularly escaping into mouse mode looks a lot like the polar opposite - Elephant mode.

Elephant in the Room?

Elephant mode has a feel to it too.  We become big, animated and sometimes loud - speaking with force, urgency and often carelessness, embellishing our point because we need it to land with impact and force.  We can bombard our spouse in elephant mode because, well, we feel entitled to unleash what we’ve been holding in for so long.  We’ve been “taking one for the team” as my client put it, and now it’s my turn.  Problem is, we can trample people in Elephant mode, and these types of delicate conversations in a relationship call for some finesse.  The re-occurring fights in any relationship are critical to address.  Safety is required in such interactions.  If there is no safety there will be no productivity.    

Mouse vs. Elephant  

Mouse Mode:

  • Diminishes the humanity of the individual.  
  • Hurts the relationship by creating a one sided closed off individual that suffers in the relationship alone. (though the spouse usually can feel the distance) 
  • Resentment and bitterness ensue.
  • Blowups (Elephant Mode) must come eventually 

Elephant Mode:

  • We become bigger than reality in order to be heard but - it makes our spouse feel smaller
  • Can sometimes feel good because there’s a feeling of Finally letting it out!  This is deceiving because it really only feels right to the elephant.  (not your spouse)
  • Hurts the relationship by creating fear, and destroying openness.  Openness is one of the keys to a secure bond.
  • Makes your spouse feel as if they must also get bigger to match you or become a mouse to keep the peace.
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When we feel safe in relationship there is no need to become more or less than we are; we can be ourselves and invite our spouse to do the same.  Safety allows us to listen patiently and share openly because we know there is acceptance of the person even if there is disagreement on the subject.  

How are you promoting safety for your spouse during difficult conversations?  We can expect struggle and disagreement in relationships.  We can either be alone in the difficulty and against each other or we can promote safety and be for each other especially when we disagree.  What better way to let your spouse know they are safe with you?  What better way to earn the right to be heard?