Greg was a college professor who loved mental gymnastics but wasn't very comfortable with emotions. He especially dreaded extended family holidays because his wife Suzanne thought his relatives were cold and arrogant, and invariably a member of his family would say something that upset her during their visit. She would then go into what he called "a dramatic meltdown." Greg's response? He didn't want to talk about it with Suzanne; he wanted to hide. This upset her even more, which increased his desire to withdraw. Greg wanted Suzanne to stop reacting "so emotionally." She wanted him to "quit being so intellectual and support her."
I asked Greg to think of a way to go with the pattern instead of trying to avoid it; he suggested to Suzanne that they find a private space and take ten minutes every hour, when with his family, so she could vent and he would take her feelings seriously.
Greg loved the idea of expecting and planning time for Suzanne to blow off steam, because he wouldn't be distracted wondering when or how it might happen. Suzanne responded positively because he was acknowledging her right to her feelings about his family.
As it turned out, they didn't need to take ten minutes every hour. Just knowing they could do it was freeing. "That outing," Greg later said, "turned out to be our very best family visit. While we hoped to be able to make it through two days, we actually stayed three days extra."
More in Out of the Box Self-Coaching Workbook.