Have you ever had a hard time softening and reconnecting with your partner after being hurt, misunderstood, or unfairly blamed? Is it challenging for you to find your way back to love after a hurtful fight?
When we are triggered, we resort to dysfunctional behaviors rooted in past traumas. In effect, we become like little kids having temper tantrums. We yell, shut down, cry, shrink, lash out, call each other names and act out in sometimes the most embarrassing ways.
The Walls of Protection
The fallout of destructive fights is impactful and real. Once your partner calls you stupid, or says it was a mistake to have ever married you, or threatens to take your children away from you, you can’t help but harden to protect yourself from the deep hurt inflicted.
After the walls of protection go up, it is really hard to soften, apologize and get back to love and connection. Unless you are practiced, it can take weeks, months or even years before you dare feel safe to open up and get close again.
In our work, we spend a lot of time teaching clients to step into their power and take responsibility for what they want to create. We encourage people to align their beliefs, bodies and actions with their Full Potential vision, and to actively bring out the best in themselves and their partner.
The Small Tender Places
As important as it is to cultivate our power and possibilities in healthy relationships, it is equally significant to nourish and protect the small tender places in ourselves and our loved ones. When we can gently support each other in times of powerlessness and vulnerability; when we can see and respond to the small scared parts hiding behind the sharp edges of anger and hurt, we open a door to a more holistic way of relating that heals and fortifies our hearts and minds.
As evidenced by all we have been through as human beings, we know that we are as fragile as we are powerful. We can all get sick and die in the blink of an eye. We can lose everything that matters. We can feel pain and hurt. In challenging times, our strength and courage can transform to weakness and helplessness in a heartbeat.
Given that we all have a vulnerable component to who we are, being tender with our small scared parts is a crucial skill to nurture. We can learn to identify what we need when we are triggered, hurt, scared, and feeling small. We can explore what our partner needs when they are feeling particularly vulnerable or scared. In this way, we can learn to provide for ourselves and each other exactly what we need when we need it most.
What You Most Need
For example, Christian and I have discovered that when I feel afraid or hurt, what I most need is the reassurance of loving connection through words and touch. It is different for Christian. When he is feeling inadequate, useless or like he is doing something wrong, he really needs to know that his best efforts are recognized. Knowing that about each other is a fast-track to healing and consolation.
When Christian and I get upset, we can speak to that small place in each other. It’s like speaking to the “little kid” in the adult. He will reach out to me and say, “I am right here. I am not going anywhere.” I will say, “You didn’t do anything wrong. You are a good man. I know you did your best.” When these reassuring words pass our lips, that tender, scared place inside relaxes, the triggers ease up, and our hearts soften.
Knowing our “scared kid strategy” helps us avoid fights, stop fights, and reconnect after a fight. It helps us support each other when we are triggered in life. It keeps us connected to our deep love, regard and care for each other when we are hurt, angry or upset.
We had another example just yesterday, when I got upset.
After months of watching in horror as chainsaws and machines devoured neighboring meadows and trees, yesterday was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. PG&E (the power company in Northern California) had just left our house after “ugly-fying” (in my mind) a lot of the trees along our fence line. When I looked out our kitchen window and saw another yellow vested man climbing our neighbor’s tree, I ran outside and called my neighbor. She confirmed that they were cutting down one of their huge, beautiful pine trees. Given my soft spot for plants and trees and the life they provide, I felt a wave of powerless panic take over. I burst into tears.
He Just Held Me
I came into the house and Christian just opened his arms to enfold me. I sobbed. Christian never said a word. He didn’t try to console me, fix me, or change me. He didn’t try to talk me out of what I was feeling. He didn’t judge me as ridiculous or tell me I was irrational or too emotional. He didn’t try to explain away my agony or justify their choice. He just held me and “felt” the depth of my pain with me for as long as I needed. He communicated through his embrace that he was right there with me and wasn’t going anywhere.
I am not sure how long I cried, or how many times I cried during the day, but in the end, I felt more alive, empowered and healed. What helped me get there was his tenderness in the face of my grief.
There are so many things we can do to help ourselves and each other drop our defenses, take a step towards vulnerability, and connect in the safe, soft and tender spaces where love resides. We can take responsibility for our role in perpetuating hurts, we can offer apologies, we can do “do-overs”, we can forgive each other, we can reach out to comfort and soothe the hurt child inside, just to name a few. But we can also reach out to soothe the hurting inside with a quiet touch, an embrace, a comforting phrase or a gesture of support through letters, cards, flowers or meals.
I recently read a story of an angry man spewing harsh words out in every direction on a subway train. Most everyone moved away from him in fear. One older woman nearby, however, reached out and held the man’s hand. He calmed down immediately. Someone was so moved that he took a photo of the two of them. She saw and responded to the hurt man inside and gave him the connection he needed.
You Can Learn To Do This
We can learn to do the same with the people we love. Empowering your partner to be their Full Potential while also encouraging, protecting and comforting his or her small vulnerable tender places will help you to see the whole of your partner. This rounded view will help prevent you from lashing out or withdrawing when your partner is upset and vulnerable. You just might find yourself, like the lady on the train, reaching out to softly hold your partner’s hand instead.
As is often the case, this is easier said than done. Since we are always looking for ways to make difficult topics practical, we have developed a step-by-step process for how to hold and protect the little kid inside yourself and your partner. You can learn how to do it in our mini-workshop, How To Protect Each When You’re Vulnerable. It’s a 90-minute course you do from home (or anywhere you like:-) and you learn invaluable relationship skills and tools. Learn more here …