When Your Partner Runs Out of Gas-Part 2
In the previous gem we looked at an example from gem readers Dan and Sara. The focus was on what Sara could have done differently. This time we will focus on Dan and how it might be different if he were coming from a NVC consciousness. I have re-copied their example below.
My boyfriend, Dan, and I had a semi-cheerful conversation on the phone. Then we meet at a pub. He doesn't really smile, nor look at me or say much. I feel disappointed and resentful that I don't see enthusiasm about his seeing me, so I don't offer enthusiasm to him. We leave the pub, we're both feeling tension. Later, I'm unhappy and ask "Can we talk about what happened". He is tense, won't talk about it, and asked me to "let it go". Instead of honoring his request, I insisted on talking about my feelings. (As I understand from other conversations with him, one of his biggest complaints of me is that I don't let things go.) He doesn't cooperate. The evening ends without connection. The morning after, he is tense and doesn't talk much to me; spends an hour in his room. I say nothing for a while, but feelings of fear and anxiety build. I'm telling myself he doesn't care. An hour later, I finally speak "Would you talk to me" (with jackal thoughts in and out). He says "I don't want to". He asks for a few days apart. I cried and left reluctantly. I felt afraid and anxious, and later said things trying to convince him that I'll change and be less reactive. He tells me he's tired of the negativity that seems pervasive in our relationship.
As Dan makes his way to the pub to meet his girlfriend, he notices a sluggishness coming over him. He makes his first new critical decision. He pauses, gets off his bike and sits down on a bench. He takes a moment just to notice the change in him. An hour earlier he felt fine and now that he is going to meet Sara he feels heavy and kind of down.
He recognizes this sudden change as an indicator that he is reacting. He turns his attention to the internal dialogue that had been going on unconsciously since he got off the phone with her an hour ago. Dan realizes that he's worried about getting into an argument and just wants to have a relaxing evening. The part of him that wants to relax encourages Dan to take the night to himself. Then another part starts talking. This part gets on Dan's case telling him he shouldn't be such a wimp and that he has to show up and do the work. After all, he shouldn't expect relationships to be easy.
Dan notices that these two parts just go round and round arguing in his head. With the noise of the internal arguments, he can't even feel his love for Sara. He just notices a heavy stuckness. He feels the strong pull of habit energy that tells him just to have a beer and check out. Since there is nothing he can do, he will just have to endure it.
Dan makes a second critical decision at this point. This time, Dan doesn't follow the pull, instead he plays it out in his mind. He sees how it starts the familiar cycle with Sara, how they fight and he ends up alone and feeling miserable.
He decides to take the risk of honesty with Sara. When he arrives at the pub he still feels that heaviness, and the noise of his internal argument has quieted only a little. He sees the disappointment on Sara's face when he doesn't smile back at her. He sighs with the nervousness of being direct. "Look," he says, "I am in a difficult spot. One part of me wants to prove that I am strong and I can stick it out through the difficult parts of our relationship and another part of me wants to just relax and have fun tonight." He sees Sara's face change, she looks fearful. Dan notices that parts of him are wanting him to withdraw to get away from her reactivity.
Dan makes his third critical decision and stays with himself and the dialogue. "Sara, stay with me, this is about me not you. I'm anxious and tired and I want to know how I can show you I care about us and at the same time go home after dinner and take care of myself? Do you have any ideas?"
We don't know how Sara will respond to Dan's expression of feelings, needs and requests. The important thing is that Dan is making space for his needs in the relationship by stating them directly and making requests rather than with drawing or going into long arguments about what should or shouldn't be happening in their relationship.
As Dan demonstrates not all reactivity is fiery and loud. Sometimes reactivity manifests as a sluggishness or a numb turning away. Take a few minutes now to reflect on occasions in which you stayed engaged despite the impulse to withdraw. What were the critical decisions you made that moved you out of habit energy and into your own aliveness?
When Your Partner Runs Out of Gas