When I have conflicts with my partner, my thoughts can get very negative and unhelpful. This has improved a lot after doing Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy but can still happen if a raw spot gets triggered.  Before couples therapy, I would almost immediately get caught in black-and-white thinking during a conflict with my partner, but I wasn’t aware this was happening so my thoughts felt like the truth. My thoughts and feelings would cause me to push my partner away with my angry words. This was my negative thought spiral.

The cycle could get started in several different ways. When the kids were young I would regularly ask my partner to come home from work earlier. He honestly didn’t feel he could leave earlier and meet his work responsibilities. He would give many reasons as to why it wasn’t possible. This ignited the deep pain that I was on my own. Angry and upset, feeling like my struggle with the kids and my need of him being home earlier didn’t matter to him, I’d raise my voice and yell. I was protesting the distance and abandonment I felt. He in turn would shut down, feeling hopeless and blamed, his own internal stuff getting triggered. 

We were caught in our negative cycle as Emotionally Focused Therapy would put it. My overwhelmed and triggered brain would start to race with painful thoughts. “I can’t count on my partner. He doesn’t care.” This all happened so quickly and what I felt most acutely was anger. My anger and blame are all my partner would hear. The pain and fear I felt were too vulnerable to express. After being in the EFT couples therapy, providing EFT couple therapy to other couples, and having a mindful meditation practice, I began to eventually recognize my thoughts and feelings, while triggered and in the cycle, were much more severe and intense than outside of the cycle.

Lightbulb: my triggered mind panics because of past relationship trauma. This all happened in milliseconds. When I was triggered, my mind created a negative filter for all my partner’s actions to run through. In this headspace, my mind assumed the worst in order to keep me safe.

Once I could see this negative thought spiral and had enough distance to pause and slow down, I could begin to question my thoughts. “I’m triggered and overwhelmed with fearful thoughts. I’m seeing my partner as unsafe and not there for me.” It is like being able to zoom out and watch what was unfolding between us with a little more perspective. I would ask myself, “Is this totally true? Was this true yesterday?” This little pause slowed down my reactive behavior. It also slowed down what was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. My upset and big reaction was triggering my partner and then he would shut down and move away which was the opposite of what I wanted or needed.

Thought for the day

Our triggered brain tries to protect us and looks for all the ways that we may be unsafe. It’s safer to assume there is a lion in the tall grass until we know for certain there’s no lion. In relationships, there is very little certainty so our fear can easily hijack us. Noticing our thoughts about our partner and our relationships can be much more extreme when we are caught in the cycle and triggered than when we are not, we can begin to slow down our reactive stance. Maybe eventually also be able to share more softer and vulnerable feelings versus only our protective anger.

~Michelle

Michelle Puster M.Ed.

Mindfulness Informed Professional

Helping burned out parents find inner calm and compassion

440 Cobia Drive Suite 1301

Katy, TX 77494

832.361.1547