It would all start with one of us being in a bad mood. Early in our marriage, we would over-analyze each other’s moods.
“What’s his problem?”
“Why won’t she smile at me?”
“He needs to snap out of it.”
“She sure is being difficult.”
We would badger each other by asking repeatedly, “What’s wrong? Is it something I did?” until finally the bad-mood spouse would snap, which would cause the inquirer to bristle and become defensive. Soon we would be in a fight over virtually nothing. What started as a bad mood ended with a full-blown fight.
It was perpetual. And stupid.
Then about seven years ago, we went through a season of infertility, which required six months of high-dosage fertility medication. If you’ve never been through this experience, let me tell you a secret: synthetic hormones, taken month after month with increasing intensity, will make you a crazy person.
I was a mess.
One day we were driving down the road, and I was in a fury. I told my husband, “I am livid with you right now. But you have done absolutely nothing wrong, and I have no reason to be angry with you. I’m so out of control of my emotions. I just need you to know I’m in a terrible mood.”
He smiled and said, “It’s okay. You’re allowed to be in a bad mood.” (And not in the chauvinistic, “you need my permission to have emotions and feelings” way, but as a life-giving, grace-filled statement.)
Marriage-changing moment, right there on the Alexandria traffic circle.
Fast-forward to present day. We’ve been through three pregnancies, several foster placements, stressful job changes, and countless other big and small decisions. As we navigate through bad days, it is important for us to identify if our conflict is coming from a situation where repentance and forgiveness are necessary or if one of us is simply in a bad mood and needs some space.
We have a little tool in our marriage that is simple, but so helpful for us.
It’s called: You’re Allowed to be in a Bad Mood.
When one of us is obviously not in a happy place, when something is “off”, we are allowed to ask twice “Are you okay?” or “Is there anything we need to talk about?”
After we ask twice, and the other one assures that everything is fine, we say “It’s okay to be in a bad mood.” We have to let it go. We offer a line of communication or an opportunity for reconciliation, and then we let the bad-mood spouse have some space.
Here’s how you can use this tool:
If you are the one in a bad mood: Find what helps you snap out of it. A quick walk outside does the trick for me. My husband usually needs a few minutes alone. For most everyone, a healthy snack and a glass of water can perk them up. My point is this—you’re allowed to be in a bad mood, but you’re not allowed to stay there and throw a party. Find a way to work through it.
If you are the other spouse: Give some space. Your spouse is already in a bad mood for an unknown reason. Help her figure out what moves her from grumpy to cheerful and allow time to do that. Perhaps the truth is that you actually did do something to anger your spouse, but he is finding a way to articulate the problem. Give him time to process his feelings. Be grateful she is being quiet and thoughtful and not lashing out in anger.
My husband knows me better than anyone else. He understands my strange sense of humor, my all-or-nothing personality, and the fact that yard work is relaxing for me. He also knows that I avoid eye contact when I’m annoyed and that I make a pot of coffee in the afternoon if the after-school routine was stressful. He knows how to assess my mood and not to take it personally when I need some fresh air and some Target to recalibrate my mind.
Marriage is “for better or for worse,” but there are many worse things than a bad mood. Don’t blow it out of proportion, as we often did. A little laughter, a little space, and a lot of grace can move your marriage out of the rut of recurring, unnecessary arguments.