Photo courtesy reportergimmi
EDITORS NOTE: This is a guest post from Mary Ann Crossno, LMFT, a good friend of mine who is also a family therapist. She expounds on the last post in the Taking Your Shape series. Due to this being Thanksgiving week, this will be the only post for the week. Enjoy the time with your family. See you after the break.
What is it that creates the intensity in certain conversations with your spouse? What moves a conversation between two people from the issue at hand into personal meltdown – emotional reactivity?
Emotional reactivity turns out to be nature’s way of informing us of where we are on the path of emotional maturity (another way of thinking about differentiation).
So one of the measuring tools we have for getting clear about how much growing up we have to do is time to reactivity – how quickly do you lose it? How easy is it to push your buttons? How many buttons do you have that can be pushed? How often do you stoop to pushing your partner’s buttons – either to have it your way or just to keep them from having it their way?
Usually the issue (we’ll call it the what) triggers some difference between you and your spouse that creates tension – more for one spouse and less for the other. The more important the what is to you, the quicker you become emotionally reactive. Your energy will be intensely focused on the outcome of the what – either by getting what you want, or by getting your spouse to validate your wants.
A major shift occurs when you “get it” – that the what is just an indicator of your emotional maturity. At that point, you have two choices –
- use the issue as fertilizer to grow you up or
- bypass the opportunity for growth in order to stay comfortable.
It’s at this awareness level that you can turn your attention to the how – how am I going to be in the intensity of this what? Here’s a mantra to remind you of how you want to be in the midst of intensity:
- Don’t attack.
- Don’t defend.
- Don’t withdraw.
If you can stay fully present and connected while under pressure, you’re on your way to doing some serious emotional growing.
A couple of caveats: If you know you’re about to lose it, withdrawing may be necessary. It’s how you withdraw that matters. Tell your partner what’s going on with you, what steps you’re going to take to be responsible for you, and when you plan to re-engage.
“I’m having a hard time calming myself down. I’m going to take a walk for 20 minutes. I want to finish this talk, but I want to do it from the best in me.”
Around this time of year, the holidays are an issue that expose LOTS of tension in relationships! You have a high desire for a constant stream of holiday activity between now and January 1. Your spouse wants the holidays to intrude on normal life as little as possible.
Something to keep in mind – each person in a relationship has a range of positions about issues. You want more sex – your partner wants less sex. You want to spend money – your partner wants to save money. You want a place for everything and everything in its place – your partner wants creative clutter. You may be neutral on some issues. Think of these as high desire or low desire positions. In general, the one with the low desire has more control/power than the one with the high desire. If you’re happy with sex once a month and your partner wants sex three times a week, you get to have sex whenever you want it!
So the higher your desire about any issue, the more likely you are to be highly anxious and emotionally reactive over the outcome of the issue (the what). This means that you have a greater responsibility to learn how to calm and soothe yourself around that what!!! And if you’re the low desire partner on any issue, keeping yourself comfortable while watching your partner squirm is just another way the universe is trying to get your attention about taking your shape.
Here’s hoping that during the holiday season, you open all the growing gifts that come your way from the best in you.