Not reacting impulsively
Listening and understanding
So, I understood exactly why she was feeling so depleted and exhausted. Not reacting and listening allowed for the physical reaction I was having to subside. Then she got dressed. I put a couple of songs on for Emma for us to sing: Home by Phillip Phillips and Roar by Katy Perry. She actually requested the second one because she likes to roar.
What do you need?
The decision not to react was the pivotal moment. That created space for Deb to express herself and for me to settle. This is obviously an example of things going well and I am only able to provide an example like this because of the countless examples of things not going well.
Avoiding the compare and contrast trap
It is hard in these moments to step back and allow our partners to just be upset without getting triggered ourselves, defensive, or trying to fix things. The critical pieces here involve making an effort not to react impulsively, trying to understand what your partner is experiencing, which involves listening, and asking your partner what they need. Even if it doesn't go perfectly, and you end up bickering, you can still do this. You might have to apologize for reacting the way you did initially, but then copy and paste the listening, understanding, and asking what they need.
There will be times when you get triggered and it gets the best of you and that's okay. The most important thing is to commit to paying attention, cultivating awareness of your actions and reactions. The more aware you are, the more you can understand the what and the why.
If you haven’t already read the book, it’s a great place to start - Relationship Reboot: Break free from the bad habits in your relationship.
David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 13-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old toy poodle.