Strong emotions that arise during conflicts almost always have their origin in the past, most often in childhood, says couples’ therapist George Taylor. When we inquire within to identify the source of our reactivity, then share it with our partner, we begin to break free from old, conditioned patterns of behavior that no longer serve us or our relationship.
The four most common strategies that most people rely on when they feel threatened are to:
Dismantling these kneejerk reactions is a courageous process that requires both self-awareness and self-disclosure, but the results are transformational, Taylor says. The key is to focus on your own experience, without blaming or criticizing your partner.
Ask Yourself: What’s Getting Triggered?
In other words: Be mindful and investigate your own strong reactions to see what old trauma or wound might be getting triggered before you lash out or withdraw. The questions to ask yourself, says Taylor, are:
- Does this response feel familiar to me from childhood or previous relationships?
- Where might I have learned it and what can I learn from it now?
- Knowing this, how do I want to respond to my partner?
For example, if one partner goes ballistic when her beloved is five minutes late, instead of screaming at him and calling a thoughtless jerk, she might stop to explore why she’s so distressed. In doing so, she may discover that her response has much less to do with her devoted and usually on-time partner than the fact that in childhood her mother never knew what time—or day—her angry alcoholic father might turn up.
When we inquire within to identify the source of our reactivity, then share it with our partner, we begin to break free from old, conditioned patterns of behavior that no longer serve us or our relationship.
When people set the intention to take responsibility for their reactivity by examining and then sharing the source of their upset with one another, their connection inevitably deepens. “Being aware,” Taylor explains, “helps foster compassion for yourself and your partner, and helps you make much better choices.”