Do you notice other relationships seem to run more smoothly than your partnership? Are you terse with friends and family when you're dealing with anxiety? Are you just waiting for the circumstances to improve before you even try to remedy this situation? If you want to feel closer to your partner, consider a change in the way you process stress and deal with difficult communication.
The practice of nonviolent or compassionate communication is to "see myself and others as always doing the best we know how to try and meet our needs". The great impact of this is that there is no need for us to take others' undesirable behaviors personally: they're just doing the best they know how at this moment to get the results they want. That doesn't mean it's easy to excuse rudeness, yelling or judgments from the other person. But it does mean if we seek to connect with what's going on with him or her, there is a much higher chance we can work toward a win-win. If he's just said "I'm sick and tired of your whining," you might reply "It sounds like you're tired of hearing about things you can't change, and you'd prefer if I would be more patient." (There's no formula for what to say and what not to say — only the desire to connect with others' feelings and needs so you can work toward peaceful resolution).
Let's say you know your partner was dealing with anxiety about career or health or finances. You might, instead of waiting for him to be grumpy again and fretting about it, find a relaxed time and tell him you notice he seemed withdrawn, and you'd like to know if he could tell you what you might do to reassure him, or be available for him. There's nothing quite as comforting as feeling heard and understood.
What if your wife needs to be heard, and you're too tired or frustrated to listen when she's wanting your attention. How about saying something like, "Sue, I'd like to be here for you, and I'm feeling such low energy I'm afraid I will get impatient and you'll get mad at me. Are you willing to talk tomorrow when I hope I will be more present?" If she replies with "You're never ready to listen when I need you to be," you might, remembering her words are not against you; they're her attempt to meet her needs, acknowledge what she's been dealing with. "I can see how discouraging that is for you. Please trust that if we can talk about this peacefully tomorrow, I will be present and we can work it out."
You might consider what soothes you when you're upset, scared or sad. Share that at a neutral time when you're having a relaxed conversation. Try saying something like, "I notice our styles are a bit different. You seem to find it very important to clear the air whenever something you're feeling anxious or angry or fearful about comes up. I understand that and (not "but", which negates the first part) I hope you can be patient with me when I don't feel able to understand or respond to you as quickly as you would like. Could we give each other a nonverbal signal, like a hand on our heart, to indicate we hear each other but don't feel able to connect with feelings and needs right now? And could we use that hand over our heart to mean 'I'm willing to talk matter-of-factly about what you've brought up tomorrow?'". This is a peaceful signal that says "I care" without promising to be fully there at every given moment.
One thing to be conscious of is to the need to truly be honest. Don't pretend you'll be calm the next day if you've built up resentment for weeks. Be real. Be authentic. And be matter of fact. You can say "I can't deal with this right now" in the same tone of voice as when you say "Please pass the potatoes." Use that voice, not the voice intended to put someone in their place.
Often, calm conversations and getting to the root of your issues are the best solution for dealing with anxiety. Perhaps she came from a home where she wasn't allowed to argue or disobey or stand up for herself. Tell her you want to support her self-expression. If she wants to express herself physically, encourage her to stomp on the floor or pound a pillow or a bat on a couch, or to shut the door and yell when and where you needn't see or hear her. Remember, she is simply doing what it takes to feel safe or heard or calmed down. Can you imagine what a difference it will make in any relationship if you are able to believe and express that you both want to honor and respect each other's feelings and needs?
Maybe she is outspoken and you are an introvert. It's possible she'd welcome your being "in her face" if she gets carried away. If that is not comfortable, for whatever reason, tell her you are listening.
Who doesn't want a loving and peaceful relationship with his or her partner, family and friends, at work and in the community? And we'll probably agree that all of us have felt confused, insecure or anxious at different times. In addition, we've probably recognized that vulnerability usually draws people closer. Perhaps you've been in a trying relationship for several years. If you intend to remain in the relationship no matter what, wouldn't it serve you, during a meal, for instance, to propose an action that could move your "just-OK relationship" to a vital one. You might start with, "Pete, I'm a little nervous bringing this up. We've not been as close as we used to be, and I really want to feel more connected. I'm wondering if a weekly date night or talking about a book we're reading, or even going for a walk or a drive could help us feel closer. Would you like to try one of those?"
When you stop stressing, your love life will definitely improve. Great ways to enhance that stress-free love are to read love quotes online, and talk about what they mean to both of you. Put a note in her purse or in his billfold. Keep a journal of what has pleased you, and share it with your partner. Before you say goodnight, tell each other a past or a current memory that made you feel special. And remind yourself, as often as you think of it, that with openness and caring, your anxiety can be transformed into loving fulfillment.
If you'd like to explore any relationship further, call 206-938-8385 for a 30-minute complimentary coaching call. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org and write coaching call in the subject line.
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