Meeting Your Partner’s Reactivity & Making Requests
Meeting your partner's reactivity is often quite difficult. You likely find yourself in one of the following scenarios. Your partner reacts and you react back with defending, attacking, submitting, or shutting down. Your partner reacts and you walk away, working to contain your own reactivity or simply refusing to engage. Your partner reacts and you are able to see through it easily to his or her feelings and needs and so you offer an empathy guess. Your partner reacts and you express your own feelings, needs, and request.
In the last scenario, you are expressing honestly. A true expression of your feelings and needs and an effective request, can be pretty hard to access while facing your partner's reactivity. On the other hand, if you can stay connected to yourself in this way, you call your partner and your relationship into a different level or relating and you interrupt the cycle of reactivity.
Being able to offer your honest expression in the heat of the moment is dependent on the amount of reflection and practice you have done when things are not heated. My hope for you is that every reactive interaction with your partner is a cue for you to take time to reflect on your own feelings and needs and what you would like to happen differently in the future. Ignoring reactive exchanges in your relationship for the sake of superficial harmony, is a high cost strategy. Every ignored reactive exchange lives as a toxin in your relationship, perniciously destabilizing your connection.
When you do take the time to reflect, it's important to separate the details/topic or trigger from the reactive state itself, these are two separate conversations. Sometimes your lawyering mind wants to hold onto and argue about details in the hopes of proving the validity of your needs. Embodying NVC consciousness means letting go of the crutches you have used to prove your needs are valid, and surrendering to the deeper truth that it is your birthright to thrive and pursue thriving.
As you focus on your partner's reactive behavior, honest expression becomes easier. It might sound something like this:
"When I think about last night before dinner and how you told me I was selfish, I feel hurt and I need honor and peace. The next time you have the impulse to call me a name would you be willing to take three deep breaths and tell me what you are needing?"
In the example above, you can see that the request offers a specific do-able action for the next similar situation. When you are telling someone about something that doesn't work for you, the temptation is to make a "don't" request. For example: "Don't get reactive with me.", "Don't call me names.", "Don't yell at me.", "Don't shut down." These requests are about moving away from something, avoiding or averting. They are ineffective for a couple of reasons.
First, everything anyone does is an attempt to meet needs, so when you say "don't" and that person doesn't know another way to try to meet that need, you are asking someone to hold back their life force. When anyone works to hold back their life force, they are moving into a depression. I am guessing that's not what you want to create.
The question is: What do you want to create? A "don't" request doesn't answer this question. A request that asks someone to do something different moves you toward creating the relationship you want. Of course, your request is only a guess at what the other person might be willing to do to meet your needs. When you don't have a guess, it's okay to collaborate around the request. It might sound like this:
"When I think about last night before dinner and how you told me I was selfish, I feel hurt and I need honor and peace.
Is there something specific you would be willing to do differently the next time have the impulse to call me a name? or Could we brainstorm ideas about what we could both do to interrupt reactivity the next time it comes up?"
Working together in this way, you and your partner stay grounded in your needs and how you would like to meet them in your relationship.
This week notice when someone is doing something that's not working for you. Each time you hear yourself thinking or expressing a "don't" request, pause, connect to your needs and the needs that you guess are alive for the other person, and imagine what he or she could do instead.
Boldly Ask for the Relationship You Want