BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2016
Success with intimacy requires working through sensitivities provoked by relationship fears.
Intimate partners arouse sensitivities. Close connections are tightly bound to security; fluctuations in behavior signal volatility and painfully poke at our vulnerabilities. A simple event or spoken word triggers strong emotions sending emotions into over-drive; we aggressively lash out, or silently stew in self-righteousness.
Organisms respond to offensive slights and dangerous attacks, protecting further harm—emotional or physical. Responding to emotions is human and essential for connection. But relationships that have long term value must be tenderly approached; careless expressions may convey an important message at a cost. We should express emotions triggered by a partner but with consideration of how the message will be received. When done with care, expressions mediated with acceptance of personal responsibility and devoid of charring blame, create closeness. When expressed without care laced with sharp accusations, our harsh presentation strangles communication, coaxing the partner’s defensiveness into action. Emotional expressions are the precious moments that build or destroy security.
When emotions are aroused, no matter how serious the triggering behavior, going straight for the jugular with a violent retaliatory attack, doesn’t resolve the issue. We simply drive a deeper wedge into the relationship. Our attack may produce plenty of emotional blood but never open the partner’s heart to receive our pain. Isn’t being felt the goal? A venomous attack divides partners, inviting further defensiveness, closing ears from hearing what we wish to share. Even if we seemingly "win," the victory is a fantasy, increasing tension, and building resentments.
Slow down! Recognize the bubbling emotions; evaluate the value of the impulsive reaction; slow down and break this destructive chain. Breathe. Calm the emotional flooding first, reestablishing safety. When you escape the primitive responses of the emotional brain, reminding yourself of the long-term relationship goals, you then can appropriately share feelings in a kind, non-accusing and compassionate way. Expressing ownership for your emotions first and then offering specifics about which behaviors of theirs triggered those emotions; with care, we effectively open the door for a compassionate response, being felt and accepted.
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