“What to do?”
One of my biggest confusion has been, what to do when something disturbs me in a relationship. Should I keep quiet and resolve the disturbance on my own? Should I tell the other person what is bothering me? Should I catch a plane to the Himalayas and live in a cave? What should I do??
This confusion becomes more compounded when you are an introspective person. Which I would like to believe I am. Also sensitive. (Okay, enough self-promotion!) Self-aware individuals tend to seek the cause of the disturbance within themselves.
“My authority issue is acting up!”
“My rejection and abandonment button is pressed.”
“My intimacy and trust soft spot has been touched.”
“My identity and sexuality conflict is exposed.”
“Can’t make sense of this, must check with my therapist.” (damn, these shrinks are so expensive these days!)
There are many wounded aspects of our psyche that invariably get pressed when we are in a relationship with someone. Like someone touching a raw wound, it immediately sends painful emotional currents across our system.
Now if we are blessed with the IS Syndrome (I = Introspective and S = Sensitive), it is most likely we will not express ourself. We may express ourself in our mind, in our journal, to our counsellor, even to our pet dog…but we will not express ourself to the person who has triggered the disturbance. We will try our best to rationalize and resolve (read suppress) the emotion on our own, as far as possible.
We may even derive some psychological or spiritual insight out of our condition.
“I must be selfless and giving.”
“God knows my heart is pure.”
“My true nature is love and compassion.”
This ‘self-help-spiritual-band-aid’ will provide us relief for some time, until the pain becomes too difficult to endure. Then usually two things happen. First, a volcanic eruption. Second, a meltdown. Quite often the relationship does not survive beyond this point. Or even if it does, it does so in a watered down version of it.
So what can be done to avoid this avoidance pattern?
What can we do to build a healthy relationship?
Yes, talk. As in open the mouth, move the tongue and emit sounds that the other person understands. But before we do that it is important to realize one thing. Actually two things.
1) The true cause of anything that disturbs us is within us. The other person is simply a trigger.*
2) But in a relationship, an emotional resolution must also happen through the relationship.
At least in a relationship that matters. And if we do not do that, the relationship stops mattering.
What do I mean by an emotional resolution in a relationship?
Let’s say, our partner says something that disturbs us. Perhaps he or she was not even aware that it has affected us in the manner it has. But what our partner said has now seeded in our mind and is playing like our favorite song on loop. It is annoying. And every time it repeats, it gathers more momentum, more thoughts and more feelings.
“How could he say this? He doesn’t respect me? He takes me for granted?” On and on it goes. After this heavy metal song has played long enough, the track switches to something softer and melodious “I must learn to let go. After all, he takes care of me. He is not that bad, for a Tinder match!”
Rather than allow this tape to play in our head and try to resolve our disturbance on our own, it is much better to talk to the other person.
Talking essentially comprises of two things.
Asking and Sharing.
One could begin by asking “What made you say that?”
Or one could begin by sharing “I felt …. when you said that.”
Which is different from saying “You SOB, how could you say that!” It is simply saying (the tone is critical), how we feel when the other person says or does something. We are not holding the other person responsible. We are simply sharing what emotions got triggered in us, while relating to that person. Sometimes it’s good to actually say the last two sentences aloud, so that the other person does not feel you are blaming him or her.
Which is why before we talk it is important that we spend some time with our reactivity. Notice it. Watch it. Be curious. Without doing anything about it. When our reactivity is met with a silent gaze, it often dissolves into nothingness. If we talk without working on our reactivity, ask can easily become interrogate and share can unknowingly become judge. While there is no best time for having a conversation, there is definitely a best state of mind for it. Calm and balanced.
Now if our partner has a certain degree of maturity (which is becoming a rare commodity these days) he will probably understand what we are saying, and respond by saying where he was coming from when he said what he said. And probably, hopefully, eventually, God willing, alleluia! both will understand each other a little better. And the relationship will grow deeper in trust and intimacy.
But if that does not happen, even after repeated attempts, it would be good to ask ourself. “Is this relationship worth my emotional investment? What is keeping me here?” Often we remain in a dysfunctional (inauthentic and abusive) relationship due to our own fears. While it is easy for me to write about it, I understand it is not easy to overcome deep rooted fears and take a step into the unknown. Often we choose to stay put, until we are pushed out of the relationship by circumstances beyond our control.
But if we have not reached that level of hopelessness in our relationship, it is good to talk, ask and share. And yes, I almost forgot the other key ingredient for a healthy relationship.
Listen with curiosity. Listen as though our life depended on it. Listen as though there is a password to a buried treasure in what the other person is saying. After all, the best gift one human being can give another is their undivided attention.
Relating is not easy. Particularly if we want to have an open (not that kind of open!) and honest relationship. But it is worth giving it our best. After all, our happiness greatly depends on the quality of our bonds with other human beings. And to build strong bonds, we must learn to talk. Ask and share. Share and ask.