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Third Alternatives for Worriers

Does one of you worry more than the other? Ever wonder what you could do about this? All that extra worrying gets to be pretty annoying to the one who thinks there is nothing to worry about. And all that nonchalance just gives the worrier more to worry about.

Treat it like any difference of opinion and shoot for a Third Alternative. To find one, you first need to let go of your original positions and stop trying to convince each other of them.

Instead, talk about what you need. The worrier wants less risk. The other wants more freedom, spontaneity, or trust. Take some time to learn from each other. What risks does the worrier see? This is not the time to debate the risks, but to hear them. What does the non-worrier see as the costs of worrying? Again, don't debate; listen and learn.

Use what you heard to create the specs for your Third Alternative, then to brainstorm something that works for both of you. Here are some examples:

  • Both want to enjoy the drive. For one, this means moving as fast as the car, the weather, the traffic, and the policing permit. For the other, it means never getting closer than six car lengths behind another car's bumper at interstate speeds and never riding beside or in front of a truck. Third Alternatives: (a) the one who watches distances drives, (b) the one who enjoys driving adds a couple more rules to the game.

  • One cannot bear to spend the last $5,000 in the bank on anything but a life-and-death emergency. The other trusts money will always appear when needed, especially when they use whatever they invest what they have in high risk/high return possibilities. Third Alternatives: (a) put $5,000 in an out-of-sight account that the worrier controls and risk the rest, (b) create a bank account for risk-taking and put 60% of every payoff back into that account, (c) agree on quick payoff work the risk-taker will do when a gamble ties up or loses the last $5,000.

  • One does everything possible to avoid exposure to unnecessary germs. The other believes exposure builds up immunity. Third Alternatives: (a) jointly research the effectiveness of exposure and cleaning routines to let go of the ones that don't work, (b) set aside clean zones in a few places around the house.

  • One wants to prepare for every storm, the other for sunny days. Third Alternatives: (a) split the two tasks between you, (b) create a system of rewards for things done to prepare for the one you don't naturally prepare for.

If you are the worrier, keep a notebook of things you worry about that don't happen. For example, every time your spouse arrives home safely from an interstate drive without you, most likely driving in the way that frightens you, write it down in your notebook. Build your own trust in your mate.

If you are the non-worrier, keep a notebook of everything your worrier does to protect you from harm. If it works, also write down exactly what would have been required to make things better if the problem had not be prevented. Build your gratitude for the freedom granted you by your mate's caution.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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