I opened my eyes and was greeted with darkness. I looked at the time and it read 5:05am. Shit, I was so used to getting up early for work that my body naturally woke me up without an alarm clock. I turned around, wrapped myself up like a burrito, and buried my head in the pillows praying to the sleep gods that they’d take me back. The next time I opened my eyes, my apartment was filled with sunshine. It was 7:33am. Urgh! I wanted to sleep till at least 9am today damn it, especially being that it was Saturday and I had the day off to do whatever the fuck I wanted. Hm, well, now that I was up, what DID I WANT TO DO?!
Since my breakup a couple of weeks ago, writing has kept me sane and it’s all I’ve been doing in my free time. It’s the only thing that has been able to fill the void successfully.
“What the hell do I write about?” I thought as I reached for my phone and started scrolling for inspiration. I scrolled through a slew of artifacts I’ve acquired over the years on my phone: quotes that inspired me, letters and texts from my exes that I had saved because I thought they were meaningful, and a collection of past reflections that I had. Then I stumbled upon a folder in my Evernote app titled “Relationship Bible”. In the folder was a photo I took of my white board which was filled with points on how to maintain the safety and connection in a relationship. I remembered that evening crystal clear as my ex and I took 3 hours to listen to the Relationship Alive! podcast (Episode 150 titled Attachment Styles and Relationship Repair featuring Stan Tatkin) and take notes in an attempt to come up with ways we can overcome conflict while in a triggered state. We were having a hard time not only expressing ourselves clearly, we were also feeling often misunderstood by one another. We needed the tools to help us get our points across while maintaining a sense of safety, security and connection.
We struggled to use it effectively, probably because what we really needed was for a third party mediator to be present, but what it did for us at the time was provide both of us with a better understanding of the steps we needed to take to get to a place of reparation and resolve. Looking at it now, I feel like it’s one of those valuable “lessons” that I got to take away from the relationship and one that will keep serving me in the years to come. So I’d like to share my takeaway from the podcast and how it helped us in the toughest of times.
There are principles a couple can follow that will help maintain a sense of safety and connection in the relationship. The principles are based on a theory known as the Attachment Theory (proposed by psychologist John Bowlby) which, in a nutshell, is a model that describes the dynamics of interpersonal relationships amongst adults when they feel hurt, threatened, or separated. It is based on the relationship that infants develop with their primary caregiver which is responsible for the child’s emotional development. These early patterns of attachment may shape the individual’s expectations in later (adult) relationships and can help explain different attachment styles in romantic relationships.
Unbeknownst to me at time and what I discovered post the podcast is that I was subconsciously replicating my parent’s relationship! Ew. After gaining a newfound awareness of what I was manifesting, I vowed to make changes and break the paradigm I was living by. The podcast helped me realize that my triggers were cause by a preconceived sense of loss of security and safety. My partner would do things that mirrored my father’s actions and because it felt familiar, I believed it was “normal”. Once the new revelation was unlocked, we made a pact to follow the podcast formula and one of the first things we did (okay let’s be honest – tried to do) was lead with relief. I say tried because this is so fucking hard to do when you’re triggered! We also disagreed about WHO should be leading (with relief) and this is why I mentioned earlier that we needed a third party to help us navigate the sea. Personally, I believe that the party who is less triggered and is more “conscious” at the moment should be able to extend the “tree branch” (this term was coined by my ex and I use it because I love how it’s able to get the point across) or disarm. For me, this would look like him saying “Hey baby, I can see you’re feeling upset. Is there anything I did or said to make you feel this way?”. This would immediately break the spell and I’d be able to have a conversation.
Another principle I took away was to “repair quickly”. Once triggered, I’d start creating stories about all the reasons WHY I was right and he was wrong. In my eyes, HE was the bad guy and I can do no wrong. And the more time that passed, the more I’d start to build animosity towards him. Additionally, I’d begin to play victim which wasn’t healthy for either of us. So I’d start to apply this principle whenever I had an issue and it would shorten the amount of time I’d be in resentment mode.
Lastly, we would also implement the principle of “being direct and keeping it short” when talking about our issues, rather than “burying the lead”. This really helped get the point across without getting too emotional about it or bringing up things from the past that would distract us from the topic. We were committed to being honest about how we felt, regardless of how immature or stupid it may have been. I’d say something like “when you did X, it made me feel abandoned because …” and I’d follow that with an explanation of why it made me feel that way AND what I think should have been done differently.
One thing to keep in mind is that It’s really important to be conscious of HOW you talk to the other person. Additionally, refrain from blaming them for the way you feel. They are NOT responsible for your feelings and when hurt, it’s usually because they have triggered your pain body. Being aware of that is super important and I can’t stress it enough.