Have you ever blurted out a harsh truth to your partner and had them blow up at you? We’ve all done it.
What happens next? Do you wind up fighting about it? Or do you decide it’s a topic that’s off limits, and then you wind up walking on eggshells, afraid to share what’s on your mind because it might set them off? Then there’s a tension between you because you have to hold it in.
I had a big learning experience this week with my partner. One morning, were both sitting next to each other on the couch, working our computers before he left for an appointment. I had had a frustrating morning, and shortly before he left, I blurted out a doubt about our compatibility, when we didn’t have time to discuss it further. (Yes even I mess up sometimes 😉
When we talked later that evening, he told me that his heart had felt closed all day because of that comment, because I had said it in a harsh way. He said that he had lots of room to hear my doubts, if I just share them in a loving way.
If I had waited until we had time to talk about it together, and said something like, “I love you and I want to talk about something that might bring stuff up for you, and I want to work through it together,” and THEN shared the doubt, then the conversation would have brought us closer….we eventually DID feel closer, but with unnecessary pain along the way. Live and learn….
So why is this so important? Because our bodies haven’t changed much in the past 10,000 years. Even though our modern culture provides a lot of physical safety, there is always a part of our brain that’s scanning for danger. So when our brain detects emotional danger from our partner (this could be a harsh truth, a raised tone of voice, or even a disapproving facial expression), our body reacts as if a tiger is chasing us: we are primed to either fight or run away. This is a PHYSCIAL reaction that bypasses our conscious mind. All of a sudden we’re fighting or distant, and we don’t know what hit us.
So we don’t have to hold in certain topics and walk on eggshells. But we DO have to share them in a way that makes our partner feel safe. This is done by physically soothing their nervous system so they can hear what you’re saying instead of getting triggered.
How to Make Your Partner Feel Safe:
- Start the conversation with reassurance: Say you want to talk about something that might be uncomfortable, and your intention is to work through it together so you feel closer afterwards
- Offer supportive touch, such as a hand on their shoulder or a comforting hug
- Frequent eye contact lets their nervous system know they’re safe
- Talk in a soft, slow tone of voice
- If they seem triggered, offer short, reassuring phrases like, “We’re okay” or “We’ll work this out.”
When your partner is triggered, their emotional resources are like that of a child (which is why we act like children when we’re upset) so they actually need the same thing that a little kid needs: soothing touch, soft tones of voice, and reassurance of your love.
If you can provide that kind of physical soothing on a regular basis, (and give them empathy for their point of view, which is the topic for another email) then you can talk about triggering topics in a way that brings you closer together.