More than words...'right-brain to right-brain' communication in intimate relationships

Remember when you were a little boy or girl - how important it was when you were upset that Mum or Dad comforted you. They may have responded to you with a hug or a kiss, reassured you that you would be OK, and maybe helped you to make sense of how you were feeling. These caring responses, repeated numerous times when you were growing up, are what helped you develop your working internal models of relationship - the relationship between you and others, but also the relationship between different parts of yourself (in particular how the overwhelmed, anxious part of you is responded to by your competent, well functioning part).

As adults, our need for comfort is not so different from when we were kids. When we feel upset, sad, embarrassed..... what we need most of all from our loved ones (and from our own internal adult self) is a caring response. Like little ones, what matters to us most is the non-verbal elements of the communication, which when given in a soothing way will settle us back into a state of calm.

Picture yourself in this scenario: you are driving to the shops, your partner in the passenger seat. Without warning, a car pulls out from a side street in front of you, you brake suddenly and only barely avoid a collision. You pull to the side of the road, feeling shaken. Your partner, also feeling shaken, starts to speak to you in an agitated way. "Why didn't you see that coming? I never feel safe in the car with you. Why do you always drive so close to the car in front, you're such an impatient driver, if you'd left more room we wouldn't have had a near accident!" You feel attacked, even more shaken than you already were from the incident itself.

Do you say:- "I always drive carefully, I had no warning, why do you always rip into me about things that aren't even my fault? How could I have predicted that car would come out of the side street like that?"

Or are you able to say, using a soothing tone of voice:- "You must be feeling really shaky - I know I feel pretty shaken up too. We're OK though, it's going to be alright. It was a near miss, but no-one got hurt. Let's just sit here a moment until I can calm down enough to keep driving. Maybe we should go for a coffee before we do the shopping?"

While the first response is completely understandable, it's likely to make your partner feel even more agitated; s/he may then become even more attacking in her/his remarks, causing you to feel even more upset. You may even start to defend yourself by either saying attacking things in your defense, or shutting down. Either of these responses will leave the 'shaken-up' part of your partner feeling alone and uncared for.

If you can manage the second response, you're engaging in 'right-brain to right-brain' communication. By responding directly to how your partner is feeling, beyond the words, you can look after him/her emotionally, and help him/her return to a state of calm. It may take a while - you may need to repeat variations of these responses for a time until your partner is OK. Once s/he is calm though, s/he may be able to hear about how shaken up you were, and to reassure you that you are OK too.

Until next post, Vivienne

 

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