George had been very upset about the actions of an ex friend. Susan could feel his pain and asked him if there was anything that she could do to make him feel better. George replied, “I could think of something”. Susan retorted, “I wasn’t talking about sex”. George responded, “So what’s new?” Susan feeling criticized, said, “you don’t care about me, all you care about is sex”. George responded back, “well you asked, next time don’t ask if you don’t care”. “Don’t worry, I won’t, Susan snarled. She walked away and they didn’t talk till the next day.
The interaction that Susan and George had was a familiar and repetitive one. They had started out okay, but somehow both misunderstood the other and ended up in a fight.
Lets replay this, except George and Susan are more conscious about their wounds. Instead of fighting, they are going to get closer and build more trust between them.
George had been very upset about the actions of an ex friend. Susan could feel his pain and asked him if there was anything that she could do to make him feel better. George replied, “I could think of something,” He was thinking about sex. Susan immediately thought to herself of “He’s upset and angry, I don’t want to have sex with somebody who is angry”. She was silent for a minute, trying to figure out what to do. A few minutes later, George said, “that would have been the perfect opportunity for you to have initiated sex, which you never do. ” He was frustrated and disappointed. Susan could feel his anger. She felt hurt and she felt like he was taking the anger that he was feeling about his ex-friends and dumping it on her. They were looking at each other, as it was clear something serious was occurring between them. Susan mustered up her courage and responded, “I just initiated last night”. George got still for a moment and realized that she had. He responded by saying, “yes you are right, you did. They continued to talk.
Susan “remembered” and recounted that she had grown up in a family where she had to take care of other’s needs at her own expense. “Nobody was really interested in what I needed,” she said. ,”And when you wanted to make me to make you feel without considering how I felt, I got hurt. I am afraid to be vulnerable when somebody is angry and for me, having sex is being vulnerable. George responded, “when you didn’t move forward and make it all okay, my disappointment about always being let down came up. So many times in my childhood and other relationships, I’ve been let down. I just wanted you to make me feel better and it felt like you were failing me too.
Both George and Susan had been feeling unloved and not understood. But as they talked, they began to piece together the old stories feeding their reactions. They were able to talk it out and avoided a fight. They helped the other heal by listening and empathizing. And they both became more conscious of who they were and were gaining the ability to not allow the past to haunt them.
But how do we do this?
When we get reactive or triggered, it means we’ve opened an old can of worms. Think of each worm as an old story that is a wound around which we have unhappy feelings. These feelings lurk below the surface, ready to come up under the right circumstances. Rather than being in touch with our present reality, we relive old stories. Some of those stories make us angry, some make us sad. These stories can be like gasoline on a fire. They are lenses through which we view our lives and they distort our perceptions. We disproportionately and quickly escalate our emotional responses to what appear to be very inconsequential events. These stories need to be recognized as old wounds and told, both to each other and to ourselves, if we are going to be able to stop these repetitive patterns.
There are several tools to help us remember that we are caught up in a wound and repair it:
* The 90/10 rule. If we are upset, often it is 10% about the present situation and 90% about the past.
* Telling our story to our partner is building a relational bridge. Reacting as if we are right is blowing up the relational bridge. Remember, your partner is your friend. Treat him or her as if he or she is, and talk, don’t react or accuse.
* Find the sadness, loss or grief that is under the anger. It is hard to build a bridge when you are yelling and screaming, or withdrawing.
* To have a successful relationship, you have to be a person who can have a successful relationship. Become a person who is communicative and open. This is more important than trying to get your partner to change. If they don’t change, the relationship may end, but your power lies in you, not them.
* Accept that what is happening in the present moment demands your love and attention. The present moment is your friend. It is an opportunity to discover your emotional wounds and the wounds of your partner. It is an opportunity to start unraveling the old stories and stepping out of being driven by old wounds.
* Remember, we all have wounds. A relationship is an opportunity to repair these wounds. A relationship is a journey that allows us to create “home” both within ourselves and with another.