I’ll be giving a talk this Sunday, February 24 at Unity of Calgary on Relational Mindfulness. Click here for details.
Are you tired of conflict? Endless go-nowhere arguments? “Walking on eggshells?” Would you like to be more authentic and loving? After decades of experience I’ve come to the conclusion that the number one problem with intimate relationships is emotional reactivity – the inability of couples to tell the truth to each other. It’s the primary reason couples counselling fails. There’s a good reason couples aren’t honest with each other. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that it can be risky because your partner (or you) may “trigger” and you’ll end up in conflict. You can be having a good day and your partner says or does something that triggers you and all of a sudden you find yourself in an argument. Your good day turns bad and worse yet, instead of looking inside ourselves, we blame our partner.
What’s going on? Why do we “lose it?” If you want to understand your reactive patterns look at your parent’s relationship. As children we survive by adapting to our unique “family system.” Some families have no boundaries and all kinds of conflict while others are stoic and emotionally walled-off. Children learn what they live. When we trigger, an immature part of us gets activated and we no longer act like functional adults. We can’t think clearly and we get caught up in destructive patterns – retaliation, arguing about who’s “right,” control and manipulation, withdrawal and emotional dumping. Bad stuff.
The whoosh is that feeling that overtakes us when we get triggered. It usually starts lower in our body and moves up through our chest and into our neck and shoulders. When this happens we’re on the verge of having an argument, getting angry, creating conflict or shutting down and withdrawing. This is where mindfulness can be helpful in interrupting this negative “knee-jerk” response. The sooner you recognize this sensation in your body the better and the more you’ll be able to control and manage it.
A Simple Technique
Here’s the three steps to reduce triggering that I teach all of my clients.
STOP. As soon as you feel the whoosh the first thing to do is stop. Think of it as a flashing red stop sign. Don’t say anything, don’t do anything. Just stop.
BREATHE. Take a deep breath… then take a few more. This will help you stay calm.
THINK. Practice positive self-talk. Examples are “I’m triggered, I need to think clearly right now,” “this feeling will pass, etc.” Click here for positive self-talk ideas.
Put this on your fridge, mirror, computer, etc. to remind you to use this technique!
Stop. Breathe. Think.
Practice this regularly you’ll have less conflict and more emotional intimacy. As always I invite your comments, questions and feedback.