12 Step programs teach a tool they call HALT: hungry angry lonely tired. Don’t make big decisions when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
Other schools of thought say, “honor the mammal”–we are spiritual beings in physical bodies. These bodies need physical attention. Practicing HALT suggests that when you are upset or irritated, ask yourself:
- Have I eaten today? Am I eating well / healthy / what I need?
- Am I angry about something not related to my partner? Even if it is my partner that I think I’m angry at, can I cool down (10 seconds, 10 minutes, 10 hours) before continuing?
- Am I lonely for something my partner is not able to provide?
- Am I tired? Would a nap, or a break, change my outlook?
- Have I had any exercise in the past 48 hours? How long have I been indoors?
- Some aspects of sex fall into the “mammal” category, too. How long has it been?
You can pray all day for the strength to solve a thorny problem with your partner, but you may find an answer just as quickly by eating lunch and taking a walk outside together.
“Hungry” is usually pretty simple, but the larger question of nutrition might take some life change. In addition, if the two of you follow different eating plans, such as low fat and low carb, you will get hungry at different times after the last meal. John eats cereal for breakfast and is ready for lunch long before I am, after eggs & sausage. Sometimes, unfortunately, “ready for lunch” sometimes shows up as, “would you please quit dawdling around this store?”
Learning to understand each other’s expression of anger is one of the huge areas of learning to be a couple. Outside of that particular element, however, is still the work of stepping away from an angry response long enough to regain your physical calm. Even if your partner is the ostensible cause of your anger, it can help to separate the most powerful physical feelings from any decisions you need to make about what happened.
“Lonely,” inside a relationship, can be subtle, yet devastating. When you first meet, you are everything to each other. Over time, that glow tarnishes a bit. I’ve had to learn that I need a certain amount of “girl” time, talking about subjects that bore John to tears. He needs time with guys, but also found a lot of comfort in his upholstery class, surrounded by women who loved to listen to him on days when I couldn’t be there.
Sometimes “lonely” masquerades as needing a hobby, or to make art. I spent one very uncomfortable autumn trailing around shopping malls with someone, because that’s what he knew to do with a Saturday afternoon. Eventually, I realized that I needed to be making stuff, not looking at stuff someone else had made. When I bought a sewing machine and set to work on my own art, I was fine.
Tired can be a weapon, if you’re not careful. “Not now, I’m tired.” The first two or three times one of you pulls the “tired” card to avoid making a decision or having a difficult conversation, you get a bye. After a while, though, you have to learn to solve for “tired.” Get more sleep. Give up some activity that’s keeping you from having the time you need to have the good relationship you want.
If “tired” is getting in the way of sex, start earlier.
The big thing to remember about “honor the mammal” remedies is that they wear off quickly. Brushing your teeth lasts for 12 hours, at best; showering for 24. Most of us have to eat three times a day, and exercise only lasts for two days. My back exercises wear off in 26 hours. I’d be in better shape if they wore off in 22, so I’d be achy in the morning and remember to do them.
Some couples will discover they have weekday cycles that work, but they have to develop different routines for handling HALT on the weekends. In the beginning, we had trouble on three-day weekends, in part because the extra day off disrupted your eating and exercise habits. YMMV.