LOVE NOTES / SEP 30, 2022
She's Triggered, I'm Triggered, Now What?
Roxy poked her head into Jade's home office to ask for help holding the ladder as she finished power-washing the tallest peak of the house. Jade said, “Yes, please wait for me; I need to send one last email, and I'll be right out."
Twelve minutes later, Jade closed her laptop and headed outside to find Roxy. On her way, Jade noticed a cluster of weeds in the flower bed on the side of the house. As she bent down to pick them, Roxy rounded the corner to find Jade with her right hand in the flower bed and her left hand on her bended knee.
Roxy stopped abruptly, shifted her weight to one leg, and crossed both arms tightly across her chest. She tilted her head to the side and asked, "Really?"
Caught off guard, Jade's heart started racing. Instinctively, Jade smiled and said, "Hey there, I've come to help."
Roxy lowered her eyebrows, curled her lip, and continued, "Looks to me like you've got better things to do than help me!"
"Oh shit," she thought, "Here we go again.”
The CONFLICT ACCELERATOR in Lesbian Relationships
Every couple has a “Here-we-go-again” (HWGA) moment. This is the moment when you are convinced that you know what’s coming next, and you react as if it has already happened. When you start reacting to what you anticipate will happen instead of what is happening right now, that is the “Here-we-go-again” (HWGA) moment that accelerates your conflict.
When Roxy saw Jade bent over the flower bed, she had an immediate and intense series of sensations running through her system. Without conscious thought, her system interpreted Jade's behavior as a threat to her emotional safety. She was triggered.
In our session, Roxy recognized that her reaction to Jade didn’t logically fit the situation. This is common. Often, our reactions don’t make sense until we take the time to understand them.
When asked, “When have you had this feeling before – going as far back as you can?” Roxy recalled a similar feeling growing up. She explained that she spent a lot of time at home alone. Then, when her mom was home, she was intoxicated. While her mom was easygoing when intoxicated, she was not responsible. Her mom would forget to feed her. She would run late picking her up, and sometimes she was too drunk to drive. Over time, Roxy developed a pattern of distrust and learned to anticipate that her needs wouldn’t be met. She grew angry and resentful, and she learned that the more anger she expressed, the more effective she was at meeting her needs.
While Jade's behavior is not the same as Roxy's mom's, the feeling they provoked in Roxy felt the same.
Emotions cannot be understood with logic.
Seeing Jade bent over the flower bed was a "Here We Go Again" moment for Roxy's system. This signaled a feeling of insignificance, which activated her system's self-protective chemicals and set in motion her automated reactivity. All of this happened in a flash, without conscious thought.
Meanwhile, Jade was caught off guard, which created a "Here We Go Again" moment when, out of the blue, Roxy displayed signs of frustration upon seeing her pull a cluster of weeds. She felt misunderstood and wrongly accused of not caring about Roxy’s needs. In that HWGA moment, Jade was convinced there was nothing she could say to make things better, so her automated response was to freeze, to go silent.
What this reminded her of from her childhood was the feeling she had when she disappointed her dad. After Jade’s mom left the family for another man, Jade’s dad expected her to cook, clean, and take care of her younger sister when she was 9. He was easily disappointed and difficult to please. She often felt like nothing she did was good enough, despite her efforts to please him. This was the same feeling she had with Roxy.
The Pattern of Interaction is the Problem
Lesbian relationships are most impacted by the dance of interaction between partners, not by the issues being discussed. How we interact with important others becomes automated over time. When she says or does “x,” you will respond by doing or saying “y.” Over time, she doesn’t have to do or say X – you automatically start reacting with Y because when you anticipate X will happen.
This is how conflicts are accelerated. The HWGA moment is like pressing the fast-forward button on a video. Your interaction speeds up; you skip over parts, jumping to conclusions and reacting to them without experiencing them.
Roxy was certain that Jade was dismissing her needs, and Jade was convinced that nothing she could say would make Roxy understand her.
They both felt powerless; connection was replaced by misunderstandings, defensiveness, and self-protection.
The pattern of interaction is the problem – not her, not you. The unconscious dance of self-protective moves you make when you feel hurt, misunderstood or activated by situations that unconsciously remind you of old pain.
Updating Automated Programming
Automated patterns of interaction are reversible.
The first step is becoming self-aware of patterns.
Think about your most recent conflict, then finish the following sentences.
When she ___<trigger>__________, I ________<reaction>_________
Then she ___<reaction>__________, and I _____<reaction>_________
Then she ___<trigger>__________, and I ______<reaction>_________
Walk through your typical dance of conflict with a non-judgmental mindset, noticing how each of you reacts when you become triggered.
Once you become aware of the dance, you have a greater choice about how you will respond because you are now conscious of what is happening. When you understand what activates each other, you can see how her reactions are not solely about you. This makes room for compassion.
When they stopped looking for the logic in their interaction, Jade and Roxy could see one another more clearly. Jade said, “I can see how it would feel like I didn’t care about you and your safety on the ladder when you saw me picking weeds.” Without looking up, Roxy said, “I appreciate you acknowledging how that affected me, and I am sorry I overreacted. In my right mind, I know you have my back, but in those situations, I’m not in my right mind - I react so fast, I don’t even think.” Jade said, “I’m here for you, even when it seems I’m not.” Roxy reassured her, “And, you are always more than good enough, even when my reactions might try to convince you otherwise.”
This is how healing begins - with understanding.
If you are ready to improve your patterns of interaction in your lesbian relationship, join me for a 6-week course on relationship communication specifically for lesbian couples. Or, you might be interested in checking out three new Lesbian Couples retreats we are rolling out (more info here).
The pattern of interaction is the problem – not her, not you.
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