Reactive patterns in your relationship can have you swirling about in arguments about little things. In a lucid moment you might pause in the argument and say, "Why are we arguing about coffee?!" Of course, you are not arguing about coffee at all. You are both fighting for deeper needs.
It is the reactive mind that keeps focusing on the detail of who was supposed to make the coffee and misses the truth of the deeper needs. Reactivity and arguments are symptoms that you and your partner's needs are going unmet. In the case of reactivity it is often the same unmet need that rises again and again.
When a need or set of needs shows up more often than other needs, you can safely guess that there is a bundle of hurt associated with those needs and a nourishment barrier is in place to prevent more hurt. Nourishment barriers are reactions you have while someone is doing that very thing for which you have been longing. For example, your partner is offering appreciation, but you can barely hear her because you immediately think of all the ways she doesn't appreciate you. Or your partner is offering the affectionate hugs you asked for and you tighten rather than relax into the embrace.
With needs that are accompanied by a nourishment barrier, it can be helpful to think in terms of healing and offering medicine. Just as a doctor prescribes medicine that you take on a regular schedule, so too you and your partner need emotional medicine on a regular basis.
When you are physically sick and you start to feel better, you might be tempted to stop taking your medicine, which is usually not what your doctor prescribed. When things are going along happily in your relationship, you might be tempted to think that you and your partner don't need the emotional medicine anymore. Unfortunately you find out the hard way, through reactive arguments, that sure enough you both still need your medicine.
If you don't know your own or your partner's medicine you can find out by reviewing recent arguments and reactivity, naming the needs behind them, and thinking about times when these needs were deeply met for you. The action that met your needs deeply is the medicine.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to give my mom her emotional medicine. She called and wanted me to pick something up for her. With the help my housemate loaning his truck, I was able to respond immediately to her request. For my mom this action of someone responding immediately to meet her need for support is medicine. She was literally glowing when I arrived with the truck and the item she asked for. It was easy to see how this little action nourished her.
The medicine for your partner is usually something simple and concrete like this. While I can't always offer this medicine to my mom, I am consistently looking for opportunities to do so. With your partner, the hard part isn't usually offering the medicine, it's remembering to do so when things are going well. You might remember about the medicine in a reactive argument, which is great, but it is also the most difficult time to give and receive. Make it a practice to look for opportunities to offer your partner's emotional medicine.
This week take time with your partner to name your medicine (e.g., need + specific do-able request) and commit to offering it to each other once a day for the next week (or a schedule that works best for you). Set up a reminder system so that you can offer it when things are going well.