A Mindful Way Through Reactivity (When We Tend to Retaliate or Withdraw)

By Stacy Bremner, MA, RP

Here are some steps to practice to bring yourself more into balance. These are ideas that can help you be protective of your relationship.

  1. Notice (in your mind and body) when you are upset (angry, sad, disappointed, etc.)Notice what you feel and think and become familiar with those body sensations, thoughts and emotions.
  2. Notice and take time to follow the “story” underneath it. (“S/he is being selfish”;” s/he doesn’t love me”, “S/he is gonna leave me”, etc.)
  3. Notice if you are “In blame” of your partner or being hard on yourself, and notice what expectation or need is not being met, and own that inside yourself.
  4. Take a moment and have compassion for that part of you that wants those needs to be met.
  5. Remind yourself of your partner’s good intentions  or of his/her struggle, (i.e. “He is hurting too” or “She sounds so picky because wants the best in any situation” or “He expresses his love in different ways”, “We are on the same team” (or “the same side of the river”, etc.)
  6. Shift into curiosity. Ask yourself, “How might I have contributed to this?”
  7. When approaching your partner remember the Buddhist mantra, “Do No Harm” and have the intention to be decent and kind. (Try one of Thich Naht Hanh’s mantras to reduce suffering right away, such as, “Darling I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.”)
  8. Be curious about the event from your partner’s perspective. Ask and listen with an open mind. Instead of disagreeing, fixing, or having to immediately give your side, validate what you hear. “That makes sense because…”
  9. Offer a “repair attempt” which is not the same as trying to “fix”. Fixing tends to shut the other person down in some way. A genuine heartfelt apology for your part in the upset is probably the most powerful repair attempt, but other types of repair attempts can help too, such as hugs, humor, etc. You can even calmly name what you are doing, i.e. “I am making a repair attempt right now.” This may help your partner be aware of your good intentions and be better able to receive your efforts.
  10. If your partner offers a repair attempt, be willing to “receive” it graciously without shutting him/her down, even if it feels painful at the time. Notice your discomfort and breathe through it. Remember your intention of co-creating this partnership. When your partner offers an opportunity to connect, accept it at the time and work with it inside yourself. Offer an appreciation for their efforts to re-connect later when everything is calmer. This gets easier over time with practice.
  11. Do not rush into your side of the story, but when it feels like it is time, choose your words carefully to express your disappointment or pain, including your ownership of it, to reduce the risk of your partner feeling blamed. “I felt hurt when I heard you say… and I now see how I may have misinterpreted your voice tone.” Etc.
  12. Sometimes we think we need to “solve” something when all we really need is a return to feeling close and caring.