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Responding to Jackals in the Moment

Your partner is feeling anxious about work and in an unconscious expression of that anxiety, she or he sends a jackal your way.  You feel the hurt and shock vibrate through your body.  If you defend, explain, or argue about the truth of the jackal, you quickly become lost in jackal-land with your partner.

You probably don't have the energy to hear your partner with empathy, but what you can practice is staying with yourself, set a boundary, and choose not to follow your partner to jackal-land.

There are many strategies that can help you stay with yourself while at the same time setting a boundary with your partner.  The important thing about the strategy you choose is that it is something authentic and honest that you can access in the midst of feeling hurt.  Here are some ideas:

§       Respond by stating your need simply and directly.  For example, if you ask your partner to wash the dishes and he begins to complain about how you don't care for the yard, you might say something like;

o       "I am wanting collaboration."

o      "I want us to get along." 

o       "I want this to work."

o      "I need kindness."

You may find that your partner reacts with more jackal.  Your job in that case is to continue to stay with yourself, even if it means repeating the same phrase again and again.

§       Reveal your feeling of the moment.  This is perhaps one of the most difficult strategies because you often don't want to reveal vulnerability when jackals are present.  However, it can be helpful in reminding your partner about the cost of speaking from jackal. Here are some ways that you can express your feeling and set a boundary:

o      That hurts.  Please say it differently

o      That's painful to hear.  Could you try again?

o      I feel reactive hearing that.  I will talk to you later.

§       Make a simple statement about what doesn't work and what are you going to do or not do.  This is the least vulnerable strategy in that a feeling or need is not stated directly.  However, it can still serve the purpose of providing information, setting a boundary, and staying with yourself.  It might sound something like this:

o      That doesn't work for me.  I will talk with you later.

o      I am not having this conversation right now.

o      That's not the way I want to communicate.

o      I won't participate in this kind communication.


Your partner doesn't want to speak violently anymore than you want to hear it.  It is simply that in the moment his or her centered consciousness has been derailed by internal jackals and uncomfortable feelings.  When you stay with yourself and set a boundary, you are contributing to the health of your relationship.  Trying to reason with the content of what a jackal is saying is almost never helpful. 

Analyzing and finding fault will not bring you closer.  I have worked with couples in which one partner consistently engages in subtle analysis and fault finding of his or her partner.  The person receiving the analysis usually values self-reflection and transformation and so imagines s/he should consider the content of those jackals.  This tends to lead to a spiral of disconnect.  Whenever your partner starts to analyze you or talk about you other than to refer to a very specific behavior, immediately interrupt and ask him or her to express an observation, feeling, need, or request or engage in one of the strategies listed above.

This week choose one of the strategies above to experiment with the next time a jackal comes your way.

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Your Tired Partner

1 Response

  1. Sep 29, 2011

    I can imagine all of the strategies listed being helpful in my array of resources. If at all possible I would want to access some level of vulnerability that I'd feel comfortable (or even uncomfortable) expressing. Saying something like "Oh, I feel this tightness in my heart hearing this list of things you are not liking about my behavior, and the sharpness I hear in your tone is part of what is bringing up that hurt I'm feeling. I don't sense it's possible for us to connect in a caring way right now, so I'm going into the other room to collect myself." This way I am revealing enough of my inner experience that the other person understands my response to specific behavior and I've framed my next action (leaving) in a way that they understand the purpose behind it.
    I try to experiment with broadening my range of possible expression. As I grow, I'm noticing that my capacity to express vulnerability at some level in a difficult situations is increasing. Vulnerability, that is expressed from a foundation of self-trust, with boundaries and clarity seems to have the effect of opening up a pathway of honesty and connection that I really love in relationship.

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