We can have every intention of showing up as the best version of ourselves in romantic relationships and it is inevitable that at some point we will be hijacked by our triggers and say or do something that creates the opposite of what we actually want. This is not bad or wrong but simply a result of getting close enough to someone that the dynamic mirrors back to us opportunities to grow and evolve past our current relational skills.
When we experience conflict we are in a survival response to a perceived threat. Whatever is happening in the moment is activating past memories in the brain that were painful or traumatic and we go into a survival response (fight/flight/freeze/fawn) in an attempt to protect ourselves. When this happens our rational mind/prefrontal cortex is offline and we operate from the limbic system/survival center of the brain.
When one person is activated or triggered, very soon after the other one will be too – and we are off to the races in a “triggernado” as my mentors Rudy and Kelly Castro call it.
So what do we do?
When we are in the survival state we will not be able to access the parts of the brain needed to reconnect and repair – so the first priority becomes self-regulation. You may need to separate for a little bit and call a friend, breathe, go for a walk to allow the body to come back to a regulated state. It can be challenging to take space when activated but it is a muscle we must work on building because otherwise we will likely end up creating more harm.
Once both are regulated it is important to reflect on what happened and what it brought up and then communicate this to your partner. My mentors created this incredible “5 Step Process” which I use with all of my clients which helps to guide the reflection and give you a tangible tool to use in order to repair and restore the connection.
Here are the questions to answer:
1) What happened? (Stick to the facts – not the interpretation/opinion/personal perception) – make sure not to collapse 1 and 2 – we tend to think our interpretation of the experience is the same for the other person
2) What was the interpretation? (What did you make it mean? What story did you tell yourself? What do you think it “really meant”)
3) What was your reaction (Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn)? (Did you shut down? Lash out? Act passive aggressive? Etc)
4) What are your feelings underneath the reaction? (Do you feel scared, hurt, rejected, misunderstood, blamed, abandoned, alone, etc. Stick to actual feelings and emotional experiences and avoid blame by going in the direction of “I feel THEY are…)
5) Where in your past have you felt these feelings? (Trace the feelings and leave out the details of the current story. See if you can connect to the history of the feelings and eventually get to the root of where they were initially felt)
The purpose of these questions is to develop an understanding of your own experience and bring your partner into your world and vice versa. Both people are having their own experience of what is happening and both peoples experiences are valid. The opportunity for healing comes when we can set aside who is right or wrong and be committed to understanding and having compassion for one another.
Once you have answered the questions you come back together to share. Person A goes first and shares all of the questions in their entirety. Person B then reflects back “what I heard you say was…” and shares as much as possible of what they heard. Person B then checks in with Person A by asking “did I miss anything?” which then gives Person A a chance to fill in anything that was missed. Then you switch. This process creates a space for each person to be seen and heard which is medicine because most of the time that is the largest part of what we are needing anyway. After that the energy naturally opens up for people to make requests or agreements on how to support the relationship moving forward.
This tool takes practice and I would recommend having outside support when practicing this level of conscious communication because it takes some practice. Think of how many years you have been communicating (or not communicating) in ways that are maladaptive. Once you master it though it is absolute MEDICINE for relationships and creates the space for more love, connection and intimacy.
We need practical and tangible tools and action steps to take in order to co-create loving and connected relationships. If you found this helpful please share it and if you’d like to connect to discuss options for receiving coaching support here is the link to book a consult call: