Let’s be real here: ALL relationships have periods of disappointment and disconnection. It’s completely normal.
To reconnect, we have to recycle our own hurt into compassion. That means being aware that our own fear and anxiety is a signal that our partner is hurting equally. Then to respond with compassion and love when we least feel like giving it.
Yep, that’s REALLY hard.
Here’s what’s easy about it: all it takes is one person and no one has to say a word.
Before we deal with the actual issues surrounding why we’re feeling hurt, it’s crucial to find nonverbal ways to show our partners that we value them.
Because fear and shame drain blood away from the language part of our brain making us more likely to suffer “foot-in-mouth” disease. Attempts at speaking will most likely result in the wrong words used to express something different from what you actually mean. Needless to say, that makes things worse.
What nonverbal signals can we use to reconnect? Some examples that people have found effective include:
- A gesture of affection
- A hug
- A hand signal
- An offer of a drink or coffee/tea
- A flower petal
- A lit candle
- Helping out
All it takes is ONE person. If one person in the relationship makes a genuine gesture to reconnect, the other partner will feel its impact even if they may not reciprocate in that moment. It’s especially hard for men to respond in real time. (Apparently it takes their bodies longer to process the cortisone in their blood streams resulting from increased anxiety/stress).
Nonverbal signals are meant to be sincere gestures to help couples reconnect. Here is what these gestures are NOT meant to be:
- They are NOT meant to be attempts to avoid the issue
- They are NOT meant to be used to manipulate our partner
- They are NOT meant to be used to try to shut our partner up
Connecting is more important than your fear and shame, more important than your anxiety and more important than any resentment you might have.
To take corrective action, reconnecting requires sensitivity to your partner’s fear and anxiety.
Remember when you first fell in love? Being sensitive to our partner’s discomfort was a reflex back then. Women responded to their new partner’s anxiety with support and comfort while men responded to their new lover’s anxiety with connection and protection.
Unfortunately, over time, that sensitivity and benefit of the doubt gets replaced with resentment.
So at the end of a long work day, where do you find the energy and strength to be compassionate and loving when all you feel is resentment toward your partner?
The bad news is that resentment is a habit and habits are hard to break. The good news is that it’s possible, as long as you remember what matters the most to you. We’ll tackle that in the next post.
When you and your partner are disconnected, reconnect with nonverbal gestures. It is very difficult to respond to our partner’s bad behavior with compassion and love when all we might want to do is throw something at them! Realize that this is a result of built-up resentment – a habit – and habits are not easy to break. But it is possible and I’ll show you how in the next post!
How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love, Ed.D and Steven Stosny, Ph.D