Artwork by visionary artist Amanda Sage
Every once in a while, big themes make themselves obvious in our community. When common threads start weaving their way through our web, I think it's worth talking about. Big things come up for healing in waves. We are all in this together. All part of the web. And lately, people are suffering from unsuccessfully dealing with being triggered by their partners. I'm thankful for the friends and clients who have honored me by sharing their experience and allowing me to see the commonalities. Let's talk about it (ok, I'll talk about it since I'm the one writing). But first, let me say that this blog post is, as my dear teacher Carla would say, "dog shit real" ( referring to the everyday chore of picking up your dog's poop). It's practical. You can do all kinds of therapy to uncover and change unconscious beliefs; this post is not about that. It's about the practical, dog shit, here-we-are-being-triggered-and-what-do-we-do-about-it-in-the-moment stuff. So let's talk about it:
Your partner says something like, "I can feel myself getting worked up because of what you just said." Or, "let's talk about what's happening between us lately." Or, "it didn't work for me when you did XYZ." Or, "I need more XYZ from you in our relationship." Or, "I feel like our sex life is dead." Or, "I haven't felt our connection for a while." Or even, "I didn't do that thing you asked me to do." They may say any number of things, and BAM - your heart starts pounding, your temperature rises, you may even start shaking. You shoot through the roof with feelings of anger and resentment. Or your chest gets tight and you feel accused, get defensive, and harden to the horrible interaction you feel is suddenly underway. Or you feel like you're in a glass box - separated, deaf and mute. Whatever your reaction, you are in survival mode and no longer available for connection. It's possible that past trauma has been triggered. Even if not, your response has come from a place of fear instead of love.
Unless you can somehow manage to get present from that out-of-control place that feels so crazy, the interaction is kind of doomed. That is, it's going to be the same as it was last time, and the time before that, and the time before that, where nothing changes relationally... when really, if you listen to your heart, it's crying for something different. So. What to do?
My husband Peter is pretty masterful at this whole thing. Actually, in the course of our 10 years together, we've both figured it out (for our relationship, anyway). I should ask him to write part of this. He's got a much more masculine perspective than I do, and so has something different to offer. Peter?
One of the favorite pieces of relationship advice I like to give is the "whatever, man" lesson. We/I/all of us tend to take things way too personally. So fragile we all are - and so important. Acceptance and openness is what is needed in times of conflict, but it is so hard when we feel loathing or react emotionally.
Loving Aowyn has taught me the beauty of acceptance. Acceptance is a win-win. For a combination of reasons, we are good at accepting and are blessed as a couple; but admittedly, there have been times when I couldn't accept, which is where "whatever, man" came from.
"Whatever, man" means:
If I can't accept right away, I try "whatever, man" - and interestingly, I usually snap very quickly into love and acceptance. "Whatever, man" is a warm shelter of good vibes. Yes... it sometimes takes swallowing a bitter pill to get there. But the benefit is very sweet. A happy partner is a happy relationship is a happy me. Aowyn does a lot of bending and accepting of me too, and we both get to express what doesn't work for us... humanely. We bend for each other and we both see it, which inspires more bending and more communication and more desire to satisfy each other.
So this is a really small but kind of perfect example. I read what Peter wrote and right away I'm like, I can't post that. Whatever, man? Really? But I breathe into it and I remember that this is Peter's way of softening so we can continue our communication, and I trust him. I know it works for him. And it actually works for me. It really does work for the health of our relationship. I inhale. And good lord, do we adore each other. We openly, genuinely appreciate each other throughout the day, every day, even when we're working through something that's really challenging. I exhale and my heart speaks. We may have different ways and different explanations for what we're doing internally, but the end result is connection and acceptance and as a result, productive, transformative communication. Ah, there's the breath.
For me, the key is mindfulness. "Mindfulness" is not just a trendy word. It is a real thing: the ability to watch my experience at the same time as I'm having it. Sometimes Peter triggers me. There is always the option to shut down, to go into "poor me" mode, to heatedly blame him for whatever's handy at the time, or to assume this is unsolvable and withdraw or leave the room. At this point in our relationship, I'm glad to say that none of those are actual options for me. Instead of reacting, I literally witness my internal experience. I watch myself as my breathing becomes tight, my body tenses, my impulse to clarify or correct comes up (there's a survivor part of me who needs to be seen accurately and a perfectionist part of me who needs to feel superior)... I watch feelings of insecurity, or watch myself feeling bad about my behavior... any topic or category of experience can come up. I watch it all arise in me without reacting (similar to Peter "swallowing a bitter pill."). I breathe. If I'm struggling with being mindful while the conversation continues, I might say, "hang on a sec," and because he sees I am working with something and probably can't hear him, he becomes silent and holds space. I watch the thoughts and feelings arise and recede in me. I breathe, soften my belly, and feel into it all to decide whether or not my heart needs to speak up about something (this is Peter's "does it really matter?"). I get present again. I am in this moment with my husband who loves me and who I love. I respect his feelings and I know that he is describing his experience of whatever is happening, which is innately different from mine (here's Peter's "there's an order or reason you don't understand"). And I know that his communication is loving - because we are addressing something, because we both care about our relationship and want it to be the best it can be. And we continue the conversation, as Peter says, humanely. Lovingly. With care.
We do our internal work in the way that helps each of us to chill out and be present so we can actually hear each other from a loving place. We are a married couple. We are not identical spiritual and emotional twins. We have different karma, different pasts, different wounding, different healing, different genes and DNA and personalities and needs and interests, etc, etc, etc. We are never going to handle things exactly the same as each other... but we have both persevered in finding ways that bring each of us back to love, a willingness to try, and acceptance of WHAT IS.
So how do you get to that place? I'll use two M words: mindfulness meditation. Go ahead, groan if you must (or nod in total agreement). Daily practice will truly change your experience of life. And then there's remembering to breathe. And there's slowing way, way down and making space. And I'm sure Peter would have other things to say. This might easily turn into a book, but this is just a blog and you have things to think and feel about. So go do that. I'll be back with more soon.
Love and Blessings from a "Dog Shit Practical" and Deeply Spiritual Path of True Awakening ~
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