Ever heard of the expression “firefighting” in relation to trying to stay on top of things? In other words, things are piling up around you and it’s hard to stay focused? Those times when you are simply responding to the needs and demands of others – often multiple people all at once – feeling like you are always two steps behind and finding it hard to keep up or see things clearly?
It’s stressful! It’s anxiety-provoking. There’s a sinking feeling that no matter how much you do, you can never catch up. And this is when our temper can become short, where our stress bucket becomes so full that one small thing can make us snap. We get stuck in our old, reptilian brain response of “fight or flight”.
At some point we become completely ineffective in what we are trying to achieve.
So let’s think about when something similar happens in relationships – in particular, dealing with conflict. When we reach that level of stress, or emotional arousal, it makes it very difficult for us to communicate effectively with our partner. We lose the ability to think clearly here, too.
It makes it really hard, if not impossible, to take a step back, consider things objectively and then take control of our feelings, managing the communication calmly. Rather than being able to listen and respond to our partner in a respectful, compassionate and considered way, we react emotionally.
There’s a big difference between responding and reacting.
Reacting bypasses rational thought and feels more instinctive and uncensored. Those moments when, emotionally triggered (often without realising we are triggered), we snap at our partner or say something negative, so caught up in our own emotions that we do not listen to our partner’s message. All that’s important in that moment is how WE feel. Our partner’s message is not only unimportant to us – as far as we are concerned they are wrong. We are doing the equivalent of firefighting. In fact, it can feel more like fanning the flames!
Responding means that we can listen to what our partner is saying, have an awareness of our own emotional triggers in response to what they are saying without becoming distracted or pulled off course by them, and take some time to think about the message our partner is trying to deliver. We can then deliver a message in return which is balanced and thoughtful, which acknowledges the needs of our partner and also expresses any of our own needs in response. It doesn’t mean that we have to deny our feelings about what they are saying. It just means that we can be aware of those feelings, park them long enough to take on board what is being said, and articulate those feelings in a well thought-out way, without being tempted to fire out insults. We move away from the reptilian “fight or flight” mode and start to engage our more developed, rational brain.
If any of this resonates with you, have a think about what conditions you would need in your relationship to feel as though you could respond, rather than react. For example:-
Is timing an issue (i.e are there any times when you feel more stressed/less able to communicate effectively)?
Would it be helpful if your partner could deliver their message in a calmer and more respectful way?
Do you feel confident in being able to respond in the most effective way, or do you worry about making things worse?
Responding, rather than reacting, is often very difficult for couples to do, because it’s generally much easier to react than respond. Reacting doesn’t require any thought or self-restraint. To respond instead takes strength, self-awareness, effort, and going against that gut instinct to react.
But it IS possible, and I have helped hundreds of couples to do just this.
If you would like my help and guidance to begin to transform the way you and your partner communicate, you can start by clicking HERE to download a copy of my FREE Communication Guide for Couples.
Until then, always remember to maintain and tend to your relationship to watch it thrive! X
P.S: COMING SOON: For those of you who feel you would benefit from more in-depth expert guidance, to learn the exact tools and techniques needed for resolving conflict in an effective and loving way, I am soon to release my BRAND NEW Compassionate Conflict for Couples course. This is a 4 week programme designed to guide you and your partner through conflict in a calm, effective and loving way, so that you can go from hurt, frustration and blame, to FINALLY resolving conflict compassionately, positively, and feeling heard – without feeling like you have both lost a battle. I will be posting more information soon but in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to get in touch for more information. And the sooner the better because there is a SPECIAL BONUS for the first 10 people to sign up for the course! To make sure you don’t miss out, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a PM on Facebook.