• Ma'ayan Greenbaum

How to slow down toxic reactivity next time you get triggered in your relationship

Many of my clients admit they keep score of every mistake their partner makes or insult their partner throws at them, so they can catalogue it away as fuel for the next argument. Sound familiar?


I can relate. I used to bring up my resentments at the worst times. This kept me from being present in the moment AND it did nothing to help me feel better understood either. Instead, ‘kitchen-sinking’ usually leaves both people feeling worse.


Here are 4 simple yet powerful things you can do to feel seen and heard so you can talk with your partner from a place of faith and connection, rather than the desperate energy of disappointment and suffering. How we treat our partners when we’re hurt really counts!


P.S. Doing this inner work does not mean you can’t also receive comfort from the person you love ~ in fact, it will make it more likely your partner will hear and respond to you!


1. Check in with yourself and feel the feelings.

Take some deep breaths and create space to notice the feelings in your body. Is there a tightness in your chest? Is your stomach in knots? Is there tension in your jaw? Does your body feel like it’s contracting, or do you have the urge to lash out?


These can be extremely helpful cues to be aware of. Don’t judge the feelings or try to interpret them. Just allow them to be, and see if you’re able to get into a state of non-resistance to what is in this moment.


2. Ask yourself: does this remind me of anything I’ve felt before?

Now that you’ve created room to notice and feel the feelings, ask yourself whether they feel familiar in any way? What do these feelings remind you of? What is the story you usually tell yourself at this point? What are the meanings you’ve associated with these feeling -states in the past?


Here’s a short list of examples my clients have shared:

  • I’m all alone again

  • My partner doesn’t care if I’m hurting

  • I’m not a priority in my partner’s world

  • I don’t matter to anyone

  • I’m out of control or too much

  • Intense feelings of shame

  • I shouldn’t have trusted my partner or shared this with my partner

  • Here I am again, back in a place of inevitable disappointment

  • A sense of familiar hopelessness, or being “doomed”

3. Imagine yourself getting exactly what you need in your relationship right now.

Imagine yourself sharing exactly what you’re feeling with someone who really gets it. It could be an actual person in your life, or an ideal parent, partner, friend or mentor (essentially the mature adult part of you).


Imagine that person validating, understanding and being curious about your needs and feelings. Notice how this feels: does any part of you feel lighter? Less panicky or alone? Are you still in the energy of desperation? And, if you feel any resistance around doing this for yourself, accept that too and know it’s always available to you when you’re ready.


4. Prioritize your relationship & come alongside your partner to stay inside connection

Be deliberate about sharing your honest feelings with your partner at a time when you’re feeling connected to each other. When you talk, let your spouse know that while you’re reacting to them, your feelings are probably heightened because you’ve experienced them in the past. For example: “When you don’t answer me it makes me so angry because I feel ignored just like I did when my mother didn’t seem to notice me.” Then, you might consider saying something like: “I know I’m sensitive to this but I’m hoping you can help me with it. Can you make an extra effort to let me know you’re listening, even if you’re tired, etc.?”


Take radical responsibility for how you may have contributed to your dynamic – this will be disarming to your partner and help them take responsibility for their impact on you as well. For example: “I know I repeat myself sometimes and that it can be annoying to you…but sometimes I keep asking because I just want to know that you’ve heard me.”


Remember – this takes lots of practice! Would love to hear how this goes for you and where you typically get stuck or may be needing more support.

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Dr. Ma’ayan Greenbaum is a NJ and NY licensed clinical psychologist. Her psychotherapy practice in Livingston, NJ is dedicated to working within the interfacing spheres of relationships, sexuality, fertility and parenthood.

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