Dissolving Reactivity with Your Partner
If you are in an intimate partnership then you know it often provides you with growth opportunities. With enough support, having your buttons pushed leads to transformation. In the long run, you might thank your partner for all the ways they have triggered you. Most reactivity in an intimate relationship comes from a lack of confidence in meeting needs for intimacy, autonomy, or security
For example, if you lack confidence around security, the following scenario might be familiar. Imagine your partner gets home later than anticipated. You feel your heart race and anger rise. You want to lash out with an accusation. "Where were you?!" "Who were you with?!" All your experiences of hurt and betrayal rush to the forefront, with fear and anger in the lead. It feels like a tidal wave, and it's hard to stop.
This is reactivity. If you can name it as such, you are already deescalating. Once you are able to name what's happening, with the speed of light put your attention on interrupting shame. This might mean turning towards an anchor. It might mean giving yourself some reassurance. For example, you might say to yourself, “I'm reactive. That's okay, everybody gets reactive sometimes. I'm working on it.”
Being able to name your reactivity aloud to your partner also can help. Naming reactivity aloud might sound like this, "I am so triggered right now! My mistrust stuff is up. Can you sit with me while I take a few breaths?"
Describing reactivity to yourself and your partner when you are not in it is also helpful. Articulating the thoughts, sensations, feelings, and impulses that are a part of that state and how you are working with them makes it easier for you and your partner to stay in a grounded, compassionate, and supportive place around it.
When you can do so without shame, reflect on the effects of acting from reactivity. This means noticing how you feel after expressing reactivity, how it affects your body, energy level, and mind state for the minutes, hours, and days to follow. Track your partner and your relationship in the same way. How long does it take for the two of you to feel close again? What are the effects on your partner? Ask them about the physical, mental, and emotional effects they experience. Noticing all of this helps you to appreciate the costs of expressing reactivity as well as get to know it more intimately.
As you work with your reactivity in this way, you learn what helps you to return to your center. Knowing this, you can ask your partner to do or say specific things that might help.
Here are some examples of possible requests to make of your partner:
Physical touch: Hold my hand, stroke my hair, hug me.
Affirmations: Say things like, It's okay to react. I am here and I want to connect. I'm with you. I love you and I am not leaving. You're important to me. I'm not mad at you. I value your authenticity.
Empathy: Guess feelings and needs - Yeah, you're feeling really angry. This hit you hard. You want trust (or whatever need is alive). Feeling panicky (or whatever feeling is present)?
Tactics that are almost never helpful in deescalating reactivity include:
Rationalizing: Trying to explain how there is no reason to react. Or, conversely, if you are the one reacting, trying to explain how you have every reason to react.
Minimizing: Saying it wasn't a big deal and that others wouldn't react that way.
Shaming: Saying things to yourself or your partner like, You're being oversensitive. Don't be such a child. Toughen up; you're an adult now. You are being ridiculous.
Criticizing: Telling your partner what they should and shouldn’t have done.
This week, practice with little reactions like impatience in traffic or irritation at a long line. Each time you notice these small symptoms of reactivity, use them as a cue to anchor and find your center.