"Are you upset with me?"
My wife's words cut deep. They hurt because she was right: I sounded angry.
The problem was one many have faced since the Covid-19 pandemic first struck over a year and a half ago. Stressed out, facing new problems and challenges, the smallest thing is enough to send us over the edge.
In this case, my wife had done nothing wrong. She was struggling with a lingering cold. The problem was, my wife is a bit of a superwoman: In addition to supporting me in running our small business, she also does so much for our three school-age kids. When she goes down, everything falls apart.
Of course, I had to try and fill her shoes, and had even managed to keep it together for a little while. But as the stresses of the business started to mount, along with everything else, I got frustrated. That morning, it led me to take my frustration out on her.
This was the last thing I wanted to do. My business is important to me, but my wife is more important--by leaps and bounds. This was the time my wife deserved the kindest, gentlest, most understanding version of me.
I had to do better.
As a student of emotional intelligence, I like to come up with tools to help me deal with situations like this. And this tool is one of my favorites: Because it actually allows you to travel back in time.
I like to call it: The do-over.
How to use the do-over to travel back in time
When you do something stupid like I did, it usually doesn't take long before you realize it.
Once you do, the temptation is to get swallowed up in self-pity, or to try and justify why you did what you did.
Neither reaction helps.
Instead, take a few moments to think about how you wish you handled the situation. Then go back and ask the person for a do-over, a second chance.
For example, here's how it went for me a few weeks ago.
My wife: So, you're working all day today, right?
Me [in frustrated voice]: No. I've got a phone call to make. Then I have to finish writing an article. And answer a bunch of emails. Then maybe I can help.
My wife: [Silence.]
I left the room. Took out the trash. Thought about what I said, and realized how unkind I sounded. I immediately went back into the house, and marched straight towards my wife.
Me: Honey, I'm very sorry. I didn't respond to you the way I wanted to. Can I have a do-over?
My wife: What's that?
Me: Please ask me your question again, the one you asked a few minutes ago.
My wife: Um.... Ok. So, you're working all day, right?
Me [this time in kind, enthusiastic voice, with a smile]: No way! I'm here for you. I want to help out as much as I can so you have a chance to rest and get better. I just have to make one phone call and set a few things up, then I'm all yours.
My wife [laughing at this point]: Thank you honey.
Of course, it would be better if you could catch yourself before getting hijacked by your emotions, to prevent yourself from saying or doing the thing you wish you could take back.
But let's be honest. No matter how much you work on yourself, no matter how high your EQ, you're going to make mistakes.
When you do, consider using the do-over...
It'll give you the power to travel back in time, make things right, and save your most cherished relationships.
(If you enjoyed this article, be sure to sign up for my free emotional intelligence course, where each day for 10 days you get a rule designed to help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)