Working with couples I often find myself talking about how emotions work, who creates them and who is responsible for them. We often say things like: "you make me angry" or "you hurt me" and what happens after a similar statement usually goes in one of two directions: either total denial of what the other says "it's not true", or 'but what did I do?' or the other feels guilty. Neither reaction helps the communication.
What no one teaches us at home or in school is that each of us is responsible for our own emotions and how we choose to react to how we feel.
1- My partner says or does something
2- I interpret what I see or hear and have an emotional reaction that seems to me closely connected to my partner and his words or actions. Often I can no longer distinguish their action from my reaction, so I conclude that one must be the cause of the other.
In reality, what my partner said or did is just a trigger that I, with all my inner contents, interpret and often react to unconsciously.
With all my inner world of past experiences that have taught me to attach certain meanings to certain things and with all the pain that I have endured and not yet healed, I react to my partner. My partner does something and I respond using information that often dates from before the relationship I'm in now.
For example my partner forgot something important to me, I react based on how important that thing is to me, but I also react with the emotional charge of all the times a similar emotional event has occurred when I was little because that is the wound that awakens in me when my partner forgets that thing.
The step that leads you to understand what is really behind the event that becomes the trigger is a very important part of the process. It's probably not so much about your partner forgetting something as it is about how you feel when that happens: maybe not seen? This is a research that must be done every time within oneself to understand what really hurts.
The fact that I feel invisible is an important fact that I need to acknowledge to my partner, but saying that my partner makes me feel invisible is different. The reason why an episode seemingly less severe than my reaction evokes such strong emotion in me has everything to do with my past which, clearly in this example, needs healing.
A more mindful and supportive conversation in an evolving relationship might be:
1- My partner says or does something;
2- I realize there is an emotional trigger and share how I feel: "I feel ...,"
3- The partner is present to my pain and offers me a mirror that resonates with my emotion: 'I feel you, you feel...;
4- I have the space to be with what I feel, just paying attention without conflict or judgment of how I feel already relieves the negative emotion;
5- My partner keeps being present and setting aside space for me to be a safe so that I can find out what is going on inside me.
I am stronger after this process, because I have discovered something about myself, my emotions and my pain, but I have also learned to digest it and the relationship has become stronger because it is more and more a relationship where both partners can be present and they can express themselves.
To answer the initial question, you are responsible for your emotions and I for mine. When you and I are in a relationship it is a great growth to be able to be present with each other when strong emotion emerges.
Anyone who experiences the strong emotion knows that they possess that emotion and also know that their partner will be close, empathetic, and loving. Someone who observes a partner gripped by strong emotion will express her love for him with an attentive presence, but without feeling the need to protect himself from accusations or without trying to save the other from himself.
In doing so, a balanced relationship of love and respect, of presence and deep connection is created.
If these words have brought you back to something you know in your relationship and you want to talk about it with me, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org