Source: Anna Kovacuk/Pixabay
I’ve been married most of my life; I’m a therapist who works with couples. Yet, for forever, I could get upset about my partner telling me what to do, telling me what was upsetting her and what she wanted me to do instead. I automatically felt like a little kid who didn’t like what my parent was saying. And I often reacted in kind—snapping back like a 15-year-old or ignoring her altogether. But over the years, I’ve been working on this, and it’s taken me a long time—to try and see my partner’s comments differently, to realize that this was at least about me—and finally, I’ve gotten better about all Este. But it’s taken me a long time and a lot of mental work.
Intimate relationships are automatically complicated because they are intimate. While you can act appropriately in a staff meeting when a colleague makes a stupid comment, you can lose it when your partner does the same. why? Because you both know how to trigger each other, you have history, and once engaged, your professional self goes offline.
But one of the most common sources of arguments and their triggers are about your particular emotional wounds—criticism, feeling dismissed and not heard, micromanaged, neglect, not being appreciated. When these get set off—that quick negative comment about dinner, how to drive to the store, what to wear, or the text that never gets answered—we slip into our little-kid brains. We feel like a 10-year-old once again and react the way we did then—sulk and withdraw, get anxious and walk on eggshells, get angry.
When this happens, we filter our present life through the filter of our childhood. The challenge for all of us is learning to change the filters so not everything is about you and the past. Here’s where you need to reinterpret the present through a present adult lens rather than an old one. And when it comes to micromanaging and criticism from your partner, there are a couple of key lenses to try out that can make a world of difference:
When we think about the other being micromanaging, critical, or even angry, it’s easy to feel this as power, others taking over you, but most often, their driver is anxiety. (Are some peoples’ control and anger driven by power and bullying? Sure, but most people are not like that.) Their anxiety causes them to worry, and their worry causes them to want to control—get you to do what they want you to do or should do, to relieve their anxiety. Or they are wired to be hypervigilant, always on edge, and easily flare up at the slightest sign of threat. So they come at you, and understandably you over-react or respond in kind—leave me alone, stop telling me what to do, stop telling me what I’m doing wrong—and saying all that only adds fuel to the fire, making the situation worse.
what to do instead
To sidestep this drama, you need to do two things: Realize that your little kid is getting triggered, and then say to yourself that your partner is getting triggered and is anxious. By realizing this, you are stepping back out of your emotional storm, taking responsibility for your own reaction yet placing the majority of the problem where it belongs—with your anxious partner. And most importantly, by doing so—by saying to yourself that this is not about me, about more about them and their anxiety—you’re less likely to get defensive; you can see that your partner is struggling—your goal shifts from defending yourself to helping them.
Does this mean you stand there and take what comes at you, feeling emotionally abused? Of course not. But right then, it’s about first aid, not feeding the fire. You can circle back when the dust settles and have a rational, adult conversation about how you felt and what you want the other guy to do differently. You say now what you couldn’t say to your parents.
Assume good intentions
Be careful on the stairs; wear a coat; call your mother. Directives, opinions, advice; mommy or daddy telling you what to do. Again, their anxiety is at play, but their worry is driven by concern for you.
what to do instead
Try assuming positive intentions rather than negative ones—they’re concerned, not controlling. If it’s a pattern and not a more isolated event, again, have that adult conversation away from the heat of the moment about what you need and what is bothering you most.
The keys here are changing the climate of your relationship, solving problems proactively and productively, but also rewiring your brain—changing those old little-kid negative circuits and perceptions, so they are less reactionary, less autopilot, and hopefully more realistic.
Your view of the world and others change when you can change your mind.