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For the sake of continuing to work through things for myself, and in the hopes that hearing about it might somehow be helpful to someone some day, I am going to try to lay out my experience (not objective truth! _My_ experience) of the negative emotional spiral that exhausted my heart and patience. Part of the entire deal is that, for me, when I am in the middle of the spiral, experiencing my emotions, I have an incredibly hard time articulating things, I think because I don't trust those emotions to reflect who I want to be or how I see myself. A friend of mine has been struggling with something like the one-person version of the spiral, so it was interesting to think of things sharing parallels in the two-person version.

The two-person version plays out over a period of several days. It starts with a declaration that we never make any time to talk about realtionship stuff. Well, okay, there needs to be space for that, yes - the invitation has been accepted. Then, what seems to be meant by that is that we don't talk about the ways in which we hurt each other and the ways in which we are incompatible and don't understand each other and all our doubts and fears.*

(I don't actually think of that as necessarily having to be the basis of "a relationship conversation," but it is very hard to resist taking the bait. Part of this is that it is always possible to be logically correct without being emotionally tuned to the underlying situation. As an Emotional Thermometer, I think I tend to be fairly well emotionally tuned, but I also probably leave a lot of things unspoken and that seems to be hard on some kinds of people)

But what is the best (most compassionate? Constructive? Helpful?) way to respond to the specific hurts and grievances and doubts and fears?

Somehow, while trying to process what is being said and asked, I get defensive because I feel attacked and as though it is percieved that everything I do is wrong and we are doomed to failure. All of the hyper-critical voices in my mind start blaring loudly. I often get quiet or start crying when this happens, or lash out in anger, which is met with further provocation, usually until a point of exhaustion is reached. Then there is a refractory period where I experience enough immediate relief from my emotions that I can process things and think and actually articulate what is important to me.

I suspect that therapists hear about this kind of dynamic all.the.friggin.time. I got so sick of it, but kept on eventually taking the bait because I don't know how else to initiate the relationship conversation, and relationship conversation outside the spiral "doesn't count."

...Where does this pattern come from, though? Is it learned from parents? Is it just human nature for certain kinds of humans? Is it associated with an absence of modeling of healthier relationship dynamics? I am understanding from some of you that the subtext for some people is that they need to see more evidence of emotions and the main way they know how to get that is provocation.

The one clear thought I could think while overcome by the throes of my emotions rendering me inarticulate, tremendously angry, and sad, was that someone who engages in that type of behavior needs friends more than lovers. That, and the spiral exhausts me, especially because there's a sense of emotional absence in between the spirals, exacerbated by the physical distance.

And maybe I am naming the whole thing incorrectly, because I am involved and not a sympathetic observer.

*These things are indeed important, but in context, not crashing down all at once in a way that makes the receiver feel powerless, helpless, and like there's no hope for change.

Comments

( 3 remarks — Remark )
thewronghands
Mar. 18th, 2015 10:58 pm (UTC)
I have found that what works best for me there is creating some distance, not in an I-don't-care-about-you way, but BECAUSE I care about them, I want to be able to see the whole picture, mine and theirs. So, I'm in the middle of a discussion of this sort myself, wherein both of us believed that we were doing all of the housework and that sucked. Obviously that can't be true, but I was taken really aback by my partner's perception that he was doing it all and it'd be nice if I helped, because that was so contrary to what I thought was happening. And I had to redirect my twitch there from "WTF!" into a) not reacting angrily and defensively (I don't want to teach him that he can't come to me with his concerns or that he gets yelled at if he does!), b) figuring out why he has that perception, and c) comparing data so that we can get a less biased sense of who is doing what and who is noticing what. In the moment, that was basically "shut up and say 'okay, we can work on that, in the meantime why don't you go out and do that thing you wanted, and leave the dishes for me? I'll do them tomorrow." And having slept on it, I think we're probably both noticing disproportionately the things that we do that are important to us, but not important to the other person. So if we write down all the household tasks and divvy them up, we have a better chance to come up with a balance where everyone thinks it's fair, and the invisible work we're both doing that isn't being appreciated by each other won't be invisible any more. But in order to get to a place where I could see that and suggest it, I had to a) react with compassion in the moment, b) have the time and distance to sleep on it, and then c) see it from another perspective and have a plan.

I don't know if if works that way for other folks, and I have a known incompatibility with people who have to have it all out right then... they feel like my "give me some time to think about that" is emotionally unsatisfying, I feel like something was sprung on me and I'm expected to solve it instantly when I didn't even know it was a problem, bad for everyone. But for people who can wait a day or so, this works well for me.
rebeccmeister
Mar. 18th, 2015 11:49 pm (UTC)
I *definitely and absolutely* needed some distance in this case, and came at it from the same standpoint of needing the distance *because* I care, and for the sake of perspective.

It's still hard for me to not take the bait, though. I mean, to some extent I'm still taking that bait, over and over again in my head, as I think through some of the bits and pieces of things. It's hard because there are definitely cases where I do agree that my actions were inappropriate, but then again with the long-distance dynamic there aren't all that many opportunities to pick myself up again, brush off the dirt, and give things another try.
thewronghands
Mar. 19th, 2015 05:22 am (UTC)
I think some of it is in how people approach forgiveness and trying again, too. The more attached I am to my sense of how my perspective is The Right Way, the less likely I am to solve a problem collaboratively. (I am more likely to solve it, uh, unilaterally, usually by Flounce Majeure. "DONE WITH THIS!" I've had that breakup, for sure.)

A lot of it for me is whether I think everyone involved truly is/was acting in good faith... if we're all trying our best, I'm a lot more collaboratory than if I'm trying and they're not caring. But I need them to have the same benefit-of-the-doubt towards me. The complement to this is that when I have a complaint, I try to approach it with a solution. "I was kind of upset when X, I'd like it better if we Y -- would that be possible? What would be best for you here?" Or if they don't like my answer, ask what their ideal solution is, or what they think is fair. It sounds like maybe you didn't feel that you had a success condition in how your partner saw things, and so what you did was not best but it was hard to know at the time how to guide things towards better? Sometimes if you don't even know what they want, or if what they want doesn't match your idea of reasonable, things can get super hairy super fast.
( 3 remarks — Remark )

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