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Archive for August, 2014

Responding to Relationship Stress

I have several “F” words relevant to intimate relationship. They are: Fight, Flight/Fantasy, Faint/Fold, Freak/Flail, Freeze, Fix, Fun, Feel and Fuck

Our teachers in school told us that humans essentially only have two main responses to stress (that being fight or flight). But, I have witnessed many other responses (that also begin with the letter F) I’ll list them below and then elaborate on the last one (my favorite, of course).

To “Fight” would be meeting opposition with opposition. For example, yelling back / lashing out at someone when you are surprised or offended. (“I think you’re a bleeping jerk!”) Sometimes it can take the form of aggressively “building a case” verbally against another person. This is an unfortunate choice, but often a familiar default action.

A “Flight” is to run away, to abandon the field or to emotionally “bail”. The acronym “FEAR” could be “Fuck Everything And Run” or may refer to the opposite choice of “Face Everything And Recover” (which would closely relate to the choice of “Fuck” as you’ll read later in this article). Often, we are operating out of a “Fantasy” story / old belief we are running. We’ll run a story around in our mind about what a given event means. In this case, we’re not recognizing the difference between what happened and what it means.

To “Faint” (or “Fold”) is to simply isolate and withdraw from conflict. This may look like a collapse into self-pity or apologizing/ whining. We’ve all seen the person who blames others or external circumstances to validate why they can’t take action for themselves. This often leaves the other person feeling lost as to how to proceed when their partner is not present.

To “Freak” (or “Flail”) would be to act outrageously and let your emotions and words go out of control. We’ve all seen (or done) it. It’s not pretty. Need I say more?

To “Freeze” is to become emotionally paralyzed. As in, not knowing what to do next and so doing nothing. This can occur when we have too many choices to sort out easily and so become “stuck” in indecision. It can also occur when we’re re-traumatized by an event. If this is you, it is wise to have additional resources in place ahead of time.

I apply the term “Fix” for the response of immediately trying to make you and/or others feel better. This person views the situation or emotion as a problem quickly helped by reasoning or an immediate offering of some type. This person is often an “advice-giver”. It can be helpful to ask yourself which person is more uncomfortable (you or they). “Am I really trying to make myself feel better by attempting to console the other person?”

What I mean by “Fun” is to respond to interpersonal stress by joking, distraction or otherwise making light of something that is worthy of honest attention and dignity. This type of relationship avoidance can feel very dishonoring. Distraction of this type is an ego-protection strategy (and the solution is to “Feel”).

To “Feel” is the antidote to “Fun” or distraction, meaning to simply be present for the consequences / pain of what has occurred. This involves a commitment to vulnerability and truth. This is also what lowers the emotional wall between two people. When we can identify and communicate our beautiful needs the connection is strengthened and everyone wins. In the Spanish language, the term for “I’m sorry” is “lo siento”, which actually means “I feel”. How beautiful and connecting is that?

Lastly, to “Fuck” (for the purpose of this article) is to engage life on life’s terms, to dive in and “go for it”. This is an attitude of “let’s wrestle with our difficulty and engage what’s real and penetrate the center of what is happening”. “Let’s play in possibility and embrace what is” is another way of saying it.

When strong emotions arise there is a purity of need under the outward expression. In compassionate communication we try and identify the need of the other person in order to reach a place of empathy within ourselves. We are connected to other people by our needs and that engagement fosters understanding. Feeling our own needs and reaching for connection is an evolved way of living a hero’s journey.

The first eight responses are symptomatic of being “off” or not connected with my own center. Ideally, I would rather center myself (connect inwardly) first because I want to act in congruence with my core values, the essence of who I really am. I want to show up for my partner and myself integrated with my values. As I gain in skill (by practicing when I don’t want to) this connecting to self happens more automatically.

I want my partner bring me her pain so I can feel her. Her feeling “less than happy” is need-to-know information for me. I can then reach down into myself and feel her beautiful need and connect with her / dance with her struggle. We learn about our power and our own essence by doing this. My teacher, Baba Dez, wisely said “every moment is a date with power”.

So next time there is relationship tension observe your response and see if you can shift into a willingness to engage and embrace what is up. Be fearless and honest with yourself. Perhaps you’ll end up sexualizing the issue? As long as it is making love with the texture of what’s real in real-time rather than a palliative or distracting effort. Surprise your partner and go for it!

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