holding boundaries with your partner

The Soft Return: How *Repair* Works in Relationships

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It’s going to happen, there’s going to be a blow out in your relationship. (If there’s not, you might want to make sure you are both putting 100% into the relationship and not letting off steam elsewhere. More on that in a different post.) And when the disconnect happens, the next right move is taking a moment to cool off, both of you, to get rebalanced and reoriented as individuals making a choice to be IN a relationship together.

Release Comes First

When the situation cannot continue, when the fracture has caused emotional damage on either side of the relationship, often is it the best approach to TAKE A BREAK. This release may look different depending on your situation and your relationship. In my life, this release often means I am going to ask for some time to chill alone, and *my* part of the miss, my emotional crisis, that is bigger than our current relationship. I need to go back to my room (house, condo, mountain) and recenter.

Sometimes, your tendency is to want to stay and fight. I call this gap crashing: when I don’t want to allow the pause, the distance between us, to have its restorative effect. I want to fight for a resolution in what we’re fighting about, and I want to fight more about why were’ not able to stop this fight from continuing to happen. STOP. This is the moment to give it all up. Give up your expectations. Give up your ego and self-righteousness. Give up your partner and their healing. Give up the relationship (symbolically) and go to your corner. Take the time-out the universe is trying to offer you. You cannot heal or resolve relationship issues when one or either of you are triggered. Release everything for a minute. Take all the time you need. Rest in your solo-reset. Let the reset happen.

Hope Comes Second

As you give your heart and mind a chance to calm down, you will again experience the hopefulness that guides your soul. In the rest comes the awareness that “we are okay.” Your relationship is okay. Your relationship to yourself is okay. There is no distress in the moment of silence. As you pause and breathe, alone, you can tune into your inner guidance system, higher power, spiritual self, and receive the calm that comes from sitting in the stillness. You must reach your inner peace before you can offer any peace or resolution to your partner.

In my case, I often go write about it. I try to listen to my thoughts and put them down (sometimes in this blog, more frequently in my personal journal) and give all of the ideas a place to land. I don’t have to judge them. I don’t have to come to any decisions. In fact, the pause is a place of no-decisions. Zero motion. Just stop and listen to what’s upsetting you. What things are hurting you? Was the hurt something that happened in the present time? Did a somewhat minor disagreement blowup into something deeper and more threatening? When this happens, your body/mind is being restimulated by a present event, but the welling of rage, despair, sadness, or depression, is an expression of the deeper trauma that is coming up as a result of the “fight” or event that triggered you.

Become aware that you are triggered. Identify the past memories that are up for examination. I find that writing them down helps me get my logical thoughts separated from the emotional pains. When I’ve had a chance to write about an event, I can often see things better. And when I have my own perspective about the (a) minor event and the (b) major childhood trauma (for example), I can begin to return to my positive self-awareness. I tell myself, “I can’t solve all of this right now. I don’t have to resolve it all. I can look at what’s happening, I can be aware of how it is affecting me, and I can make decisions from my more rational state, about what actions I need to take to heal and reduce my stress and upset.

As I pause, gather my thoughts, and meditate on my “okayness,” I begin to feel my hopeful self return. I often smile at this point. I am back. I am back to being me.

Repair Comes Last

If my upset came as a result of an event or disagreement with my partner, I can now return to them and ask for a repair.

My repair might look like this:

“I’m sorry I got so upset about that. I’ve spent some time to get some more information about what was so triggering about it. I’m willing to take responsibility for my part in this mess. And I will commit to doing less of the things that upset you. I am sorry for my outburst. Please forgive me. I will do my best.”

There’s a popular wisdom quote that says, “Everyone is doing the best that they can.” While, this is nice to imagine, as a way of being compassionate and empathetic for others, the truth is, there are a ton of triggered people walking around reenacting their trauma on themselves and those around them. We call these toxic people. They have toxic relationships. The bring the toxin into all of their interactions with those around them. And even imagining them doing the “best they can” doesn’t excuse their egregious behavior. It’s fine to imagine them doing their best, but they are acting out their worst. This is where they are. We can’t heal them. We don’t need to confront them and try to reach a resolution. Often, the best tactic is to let them go on their way without any help or hindrance from us.

Toxic people create more toxic people around themselves. If you don’t want to succumb to the infectious nature of hyper-negative behavior, the best course of action is to leave them alone. You don’t have to be around toxic people. It’s okay to say goodbye. You do not have to be around toxic people. You have choices.

It is hopeful that the relationship you are working on is not with a toxic person. As long as the person is willing to work on their issues, and IS MAKING THE EFFORT to work on their issues, you have a chance.

Onward into the Clear Blue Skies of Love Together

Once the repair has been made in a loving relationship, the trust will continue to build between you. The repair gives both partners a chance to express their gratitude and appreciation for the other person and, more importantly, the relationship you are trying to build together. This is a journey of two. Both partners have to be willing and able to engage in healthy negotiations, or things will continue to go south.

Finding peace is possible even when things are not where you want them to be. I can love my partner, even when things are not going according to how I would like them to go. I can support them in working out whatever they are here to learn in this life. I can love them exactly as they are. If I can maintain my own center of gravity, my own self-awareness and self-love, I can hold my boundary of hope and love, in spite of challenging circumstances. This is about the dance of building a relationship together. We’re not always going to be together on every issue. We might even disagree on some fundamental issues. And we can still choose to love and support our partner in their lives, JUST WHERE THEY ARE.

Sure, I want things to be different. I want to be through this moment of pause and solo contemplation. But, aren’t I getting to learn a lot about myself? Is this exactly what I need at this moment in my life? If I believe in a higher plan, if I want to navigate with star maps and not treasure maps, then I can be IN LOVE and AT PEACE even in this painful pause. The pain has a lesson for me. I may learn something new every morning and every evening. I am learning.

My hope is my partner is learning and stretching themselves. This is all we can ever hope for.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Get the full story of those early long-term relationships in John’s book: Single Dad Seeks

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