What do you do when your partner is in overwhelm? (Yes, I had to choose this goofy video image of myself)
Do you support them by trying to talk them out of overwhelm — attempting to rationalize them out of their current train of thoughts? Do you attentively listen to them while offering empathy and kindness? Do you snap at them with frustration and annoyance? Do you quickly try to fix them, so that you can alleviate the discomfort within yourself?
We have tried all of the above… many times, with little success. What we have learned is that each of us has very specific ways that we like to be supported when we are in overwhelm. The key is to have a conversation about overwhelm in order to better support your partner.
Overwhelm occurs when the “stress response system” has gotten activated. Meaning, something happens in our environment and we feel afraid, stressed, or anxious and our brain sends us into fight or flight. Having lost contact with our wise pre-frontal cortex, we are quite literally 4 years old — reactive, vulnerable, highly emotional, and easily triggered.
The funny thing is, when one partner is in overwhelm, the other partner forgets that they are dealing with a tantruming 4 year old. Instead, we attempt to rationalize with them and support them like we would any adult. But this doesn’t always work. In many ways, our tactics end up backfiring.
Justin and I have found great value in asking each other the following questions (please note, we highly recommend having this conversation when you and your partner are NOT in overwhelm, instead try having it when you are in a pretty good place):
1. When you are in overwhelm, what have I done that DOES NOT feel supportive? What kinds of things do not feel helpful when you are in overwhelm?
2. What have I done that DOES feel supportive? What would you like to see more of when you are in overwhelm?
I felt a huge sense of relief after Justin and I had this conversation. It helped illuminate for me that I need physical space when I am in overwhelm. I do not like it when someone tries to grab onto me or touch me. I also crave genuine compassion and kindness. For Justin, the conversation helped him see that he does not want advice, harshness, or to be fixed. Instead, he wants an empathetic space so he can communicate freely.
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Thank you all for your love and support,
Juna & Justin