Staying with "No"
I am often helping couples learn to recognize the beginning of escalation and call a timeout to calm, connect with self, and come back later. On the other end of the continuum, you can find yourself leaving at the smallest sign of conflict. An important part of building trust and intimacy is learning to stay with the little disconnects in your relationship.
This can be as simple as hearing "no" from your partner and walking away. For example you might ask your partner for a snuggle, get "no" in response and then walk away silently. These moments are prime opportunities to connect.
You might be saying, "I'd be exhausted if we processed every little disconnect." If so, I offer two things to consider. One, little disconnects tend to feed into larger conflicts later. Two, the more you practice staying with little disconnects the more efficient you become at returning to connection.
For example, when your partner says "no" to a snuggle you know that she or he is saying yes to other needs. You learn to hear "no" as an invitation to connect with the needs alive for your partner. You might do this by making a guess, "Are you needing to unwind?" Making a guess, rather than asking a question which can sometimes be heard as interrogation, lets your partner know you are genuinely curious about his or her world.
Connected to your partner's need and your own you can begin a negotiation. This might be as simple as saying, "Can I check back with you in a couple of hours about snuggling?" You partner might offer that she or he only needs an hour to unwind.
As I talked about in last week's article disconnects often show up only in body language. If you feel yourself moving away from your partner without really deciding to, ask yourself what you just observed. See if you can name that observation and offer a guess. For example, "I noticed as I was talking you started looking out the window. I'm guessing something important is up for you, is that right?"
This practice of getting curious about disconnects not only brings you into each other's worlds, it also helps prevent taking things personally. When you get curious about your partner's feelings and needs in a little disconnect, you interrupt your own mental habit of jumping to assumptions and interpretations. Depending on your partner's report of her or his experience rather than your interpretations makes life a whole lot easier.
This week notice when you move away from an interaction with your partner. Check in with yourself. Are you backing off out of fear or hopelessness? If so, are you willing to take the risk to move through the little disconnect by naming what happened and sharing feelings and needs around that?