Otherwise known as the saga of the dishwasher, the garden tap and the kitty litter…
An exercise in couples communication!
We have all witnessed, or experienced ourselves, the surging intensity of emotion that appears to explode out of nowhere over some insignificant happening.
Such as when your significant other stacks the dishwasher incorrectly- or at least incorrectly as you see it. They then react ‘over emotionally’ (as you see it) to your kindly imparted (many times), extensive (and correct!) dishwasher stacking theories in your attempts to ‘help’.
Or some other similar, major life changing event occurs with matching intensity that if left uncorrected feels like it will stop the sun from rising…
We come across many couples who have their own version of the dishwasher story… such as the garden tap that is left on or switched off too early, or the kitty litter that is, or is not changed appropriately. One of our own versions of this story is the over anxious retreat facilitator stressing about getting everyone on to the bus on time vs the one who wafts about trusting that all will happen perfectly…Here we show what may really be going on under the surface and how to shift it.
About that dishwasher…
If you’re the dishwasher authority, in the interests of proper decorum and being a caring partner, you may decide to say nothing and simply fume inside every time about how it ‘should’ be done. You may choose re pack it yourself (the right way) and be taken aback when your significant other explodes again with what feels like totally unjustified anger towards you. You may decide to give them further advice on how to do it properly with similar results. Or perhaps you just withdraw into a quiet, sulky state of wounded martyrdom…
If you’re the dishwasher ‘criminal’ you find yourself responding with what feels like totally justified anger towards your partner’s behaviour. Finding yourself instantly wounded you get defensive and quickly move into attack, wielding your offensive weapons of shame, blame or criticism at your partner.
From here couples communication quickly descends into a vortex of mutual recrimination, all the while knowing it is pointless but none the less still constrained to go there. In a situation where one person is triggered into emotion the other person can help restore equilibrium. In this scenario, where both of you are triggered it’s much more difficult.
We all have been either the do’er (dishwasher stacker) or the do’ee (dishwasher re stacker), experiencing but not understanding the emotionally intensity that illogically arises on both sides.
The question is Why??
So why does this emotion happen, seemingly coming out of nowhere, usually leaving a trail of confusion, hurt and bewilderment? As with most relationship, family and even work disputes, the catalyst is often something insignificant with an ensuing, and projected intensity that is way out of proportion to the alleged incident. When this happens, people are caught up in their own unique mixture of reactionary emotional responses and a couples communication goes out the window.
These overblown and illogical responses to arguments about inanimate objects like a dishwasher or garden tap, are actually not about the tap or the dishwasher, but something else entirely. Even if your particular trigger is more complex, such as the way your partner talked to a woman at work or the amount of time they spent on the phone with their mother, the out of proportion response is the same.
In this situation understanding comes after the feeling.
That’s why it’s important to deal with the outburst of feeling first rather than with the issue itself.
It’s the underlying feeling that is likely to be driving the outburst in the first place and we can’t discover what this is through attempting to negotiate the behavior. In fact, negotiation takes us further away from potential understanding.
When negotiating in emotional trigger our Egos’ rational brain attaches 90% bullshit to 10% truth, making it impossible to get anywhere worthwhile. It becomes like 6 guys living in a house together attempting to negotiate the cleaning duties. Several totally different versions of the one story start vying for attention leading us around and around in a hell of our own minds…
Instead we can choose to deal with the feeling in the body rather than the words in our brain. This seems counter intuitive because we don’t want to feel the hurt. Yet choosing to connect with the hurt rather than avoid it makes sense as it quickly puts you back in the driver’s seat of yourself.
Owning our stuff!
We can start to do this by simply owning our reality; by saying ‘I’ve been really triggered here, I’ve got no idea why but I am!’ For if you’re the one feeling it, is totally 100% yours, no matter how unpleasant or unjustified it may feel. As we’ve said, it’s most likely has nothing to do with the dish washer, the tap or the kitty litter, your advisor or anyone else.
Simply taking a breath, connecting with your body and asking yourself “What am I feeling?” and owning that “I feel hurt, offended, simply pissed off or whatever, and it’s NOT about you” is a great start. It is acknowledging that this is your feeling and the outside actions are simply a catalyst that has plugged you into your deeper unexpressed emotional self.
Owing our feelings, even if we don’t understand them, takes the heat out of the situation. It stops us from projecting our bullshit stories onto our partners and brings a feeling of reconnection with ourselves. It allows us to start to see more clearly that our Ego’s games of story are not real, even though we may have been totally convinced of it a few moments before. It invites our partner to stop doing the same, as we’re longer ‘in it’ to argue with them. If they still try, we’re more easily able to detach from it and see it for what it really is- a triggered response that will take you nowhere worth going.
The most common response in these circumstances is not to feel and to project our hurt or anger back onto the other, usually with a little more added intensity, just to make sure we get heard…
It seems easier but it isn’t!
It seems easier to project that unpleasant emotional response part of ourselves somewhere else, onto someone or something outside of us, even though our unpleasantness has nothing to do with them or what happened.
Projections are a natural response in defending ourselves when we’re feeling attacked or criticized (whether this is the actual reality or not). We project because of our own unresolved emotional baggage that is being presented to us by someone else. This someone else often doesn’t understand our emotional triggers as they are totally unique to us, as their triggers will be to them.
Once we’ve owned that we’ve been triggered, that it’s our stuff, we’ve connected to our bodies and felt the actual physical feeling that’s there we can then ask ourselves what is the underlying truth that is asking to be acknowledged?
We can support ourselves to get to this truth by staying connected with our bodies and with the feeling, taking a few breaths into the feeling. Breathing into the uncomfortable feeling allows it to move into something more easeful. This connection awakens our intuitive body/mind and brings the deeper truth of our hearts to the surface.
Our body speaks the truth
When we get this truth we feel a ‘shift’ in ourselves, our bodies soften and our minds clear. This truth will have a minimum of words, something like ‘I needed to feel loved or respected or heard’ or ‘I feel unworthy’… If there is not this shift in your body or you’re still attached to defending yourself or being right you’re not there yet, go back to the feeling. The heart doesn’t care about being right, or even getting what it needs just then, it only wants to be listened to.
With awareness, practice and a desire to own your stuff, these triggers are gifts into your deeper emotional self for each of you. It takes couples communication to a whole new level. Once acknowledged your trigger ceases to be a trigger in the same situation- you can laugh where once you were spiraled into suffering. If it is a deep primal need that is not being met in your relationship (showing up as a pattern) you might benefit from finding new ways to meet it.
It’s short term pain for long term gain.
As you can see owning your emotional response creates choices for you in how you respond and the ability to more carefully choose which words to use in your reply. Owning our emotional feelings means we experience what we’re feeling rather than becoming entangled in some game of tit for tat over an inanimate object.
It is challenging to do at first as we literally ‘go unconscious’ when we’re triggered and making a conscious choice is at first impossible. Yet setting an intention to look at your triggers more clearly will help you slowly gain more clarity and control.
Not owning our stuff and continually projecting it out into the world is very uncomfortable for others to be around and a death knell for a relationship (be it with your intimate partner, your family or at work) so do yourself and your loved ones a favour by being willing to feel instead. This personal element is usually what is underneath most relationship issues, family, workplace or other disputes that occur when there is more than one person involved. Being willing to feel is the beginning of freedom from it.