Huh? How is that possible? It’s usually all his (or her) fault. SHE (or HE) provokes me. I didn’t do anything. Sound familiar? And while some of this may be true… you may be provoked or chided or nagged. But your reaction to this behavior is worthy of exploration. Pick an area about which you feel especially sensitive as it relates to your interaction with your partner. Maybe you feel easily slighted when he can’t spend extra time with you before bed or feel exceptionally irritated when she asks you to clean the dishes. Why might this be? Some of this may be related to your partner…perhaps this behavior is frustrating, overbearing, or oppressive. But some of it may be related to old emotional business…your old emotional business. Sometimes we get especially triggered by things with which we have old, painful experiences associated. Meaning: if while growing up your father was emotionally and/or physically unavailable, you may be especially sensitive to feeling abandoned, not prioritized, or dismissed. And although it may be true that you do feel somewhat set aside when your partner is unable to spend focused time with you pre-bedtime, your reaction may be related more to the past wounds of your childhood than to the present situation. It may bump up against that part of you, that younger part of you, that can feel quickly abandoned, unlovable, or not prioritized. These feelings are valid. They are part of your early and painful experiences. But instead of letting these feelings leak out onto your partner, really get in touch with them. Explore them. Mourn them. Honor them. These feelings and experiences need to be thought about and processed so they don’t take over how you move through the world or move through your relationship. So next time you feel that feeling…the one where you feel immediately and wholly triggered by your partner when a part of you knows it doesn’t really match the infraction, sit with yourself, ask yourself what old wounds this is triggering. And seek support. From a friend, therapist, family member or trusted other. Even from your partner. Why not tell him or her that you recognize that you are experiencing a dramatic reaction to something that he/she did and that it may only be slightly related to the present event. That the real emotion behind the reaction is related to old, painful, triggering emotional business. Ask for a hug, ask for an ear, ask to be heard. You may be surprised at not only the support you get from your partner as you share this vulnerable information, but also the intimacy it fosters between you two.
Oh, and it will probably also mean less fighting…
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So the message is to carefully look inward rather than outward during your next potential conflict. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself. And your partner.
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Dr. Goldsher is a clinical psychologist who has a practice in Beverly Hills, CA. For more about Dr. Hillary Goldsher, please go to her website.