If you are human and you have been in at least one romantic relationship, chances are high that the answer to the above questions is – YES! This is pretty normal stuff, right?? So what’s the problem?
As we’ve discussed in other posts, as humans, we are not actually designed to have any one emotional response for a prolonged period of time. Physiologically we’re programmed to have a “feeling” (anger, sadness, guilt, love) for 20ish minutes. They tend to come in waves, peaks and valleys. “Emotions” that stick around longer than that typically mean that we are actively trying to avoid experiencing the feelings that are there.
Situations where one partner (or both) seem “stuck” in an emotion, particularly anger, can be particularly difficult. Having the person you love be angry with you for a prolonged period can start to erode your own sense of safety. Strangely, being angry at the person you love can have similar effects!
In our personal and professional experience, one of the MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS of intimate relationships is a sense of SAFETY and TRUST. This is your tribe after all – you have to know they have your back and they have to know you have theirs.
So how can we allow ourselves or our loved ones to be angry or even stuck in avoidance behaviours, and still promote that sense of safety at a time when it might feel the least safe? These may seem pretty obvious, but usually it is the fundamentals that are the most important, and they often need repeating.
WHEN YOU ARE ANGRY
“I know I’m really angry right now, and I’m trying to work through some feelings, but just so you know, I’ve got your back, even when I’m angry or hurt. We’ll still take care of each other.”
2) Take the time and space you need: some people need to be alone to get unstuck and/or process the feelings that are there. Don’t be afraid to set that boundary. But also make sure that you create some check in times with your partner, so they can just know what’s going on.
“Hey, I’m gonna need a few hours and maybe more I don’t know, but let’s check in at 4 p.m. “
3) Can you make contact: One of the best ways to help maintain that sense of safety is through touching. Can you take a moment and just hold your partner’s hand? Give a hug? This isn’t always possible and you need to look inside to find what is right for you, but even a moment of contact can make a huge difference for you and for your partner.
4) Self Soothing: Do you have activities that you know are self soothing? Something you can do for yourself that you know will bring you back to a place where you can be constructive? (meditation? music? even try placing your hand over your heart and see if you can send yourself a positive healing intention). The point isn’t to avoid the angry feelings, but sometimes we need to re-centre ourselves before we can really tackle the main issue.
WHEN YOUR PARTNER IS ANGRY
1) Validation: the first and perhaps best thing you can do is validate the feeling. It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to be fair. It doesn’t have to be rational or reasonable. Just validate, and let them know that no matter what it is, you’ve got their back. Feeling heard is a great “cure” for getting unstuck and can help a person pass the emotions more easily.
2) Take their cues: listen to and respect your partners boundaries. If they need time and space, give it too them. That doesn’t mean you sacrifice your needs though. If you are someone who prefers to take space, then giving your partner all the time they want might not be an issue, but if you need more contact, don’t be afraid to at least ask for check-in’s.
“Hey, I know you need time to be alone with this, but it would really mean a lot to me if you could check in with me at 4 p.m. and we can see where you are at, ok?”
Be mindful of what they need, but safety comes from taking care of yourself too.
2) Can you make contact: Offering contact like holding hands or hugging can have a huge impact on your partners current mental state. Feeling safe can allow feelings to be processed more readily. That said, don’t force it. They will know their own limits too and in the wrong circumstance this could be damaging, not helpful.
3) Cue them to soothing behaviours: What are the things that help your partner get into a healthy frame of mind. Cue them to things that they know help. Having a frank discussion about it so you can prepare beforehand is helpful too. As with making contact, it’s really important to make them as suggestions and not try to force it.
“I know you are going to do what’s healthiest for you, but we’ve talked about how I might best help and we agreed i should cue you to your self-soothing strategies. Have you tried listening to music or going for a run? Those things have helped you in the past?”
Do these sound familiar? They should! No matter which side of the coin you are on, validation, finding and respecting boundaries, keeping contact and self-soothing are great tools to help foster that sense of safety in your relationship. Although we focused on those time when you or your partner is angry these suggestions all hold true regardless of what’s happening.
Now you might be thinking “Yeah, but its REALLY HARD when you are the target of the anger or when your partner is the target of your anger. ”
True, but in the end, as we everything else, it comes down to priorities and choice. You always have a choice on how you act. If safety in your intimate relationship is a priority, then these are tools that might help.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this or any other post. Here or on twitter: @kryanwilson or DrAdrianaWilson
Have a great day!