Has your partner ever said to you, “Babe, I need some space tonight.”? Then your knee jerk reaction is something like anxiety, anger, dread, or fear? If so, then congratulations you are in a relationship in which you are connected enough to have your core issues arise! While no one likes to feel these deep issues of abandonment they are often hanging around right under the surface unconsciously driving your behavior. When your partner asks for space, and you get triggered, they come up right in your face. The problem is these deep issues are tricky and instead of seeing these feelings as indicators of your own issues you start to question the relationship or your partner’s love for you. Both very painful!
So for those of you with those pesky abandonment issues this small request for space becomes a fight, or you start distancing yourself from your partner and act out in some way. All very normal, its almost like little kids getting their feelings hurt. One kid says “I don’t want to play with you today,” and the other kid says, “Fine, I’m taking my toys home then!” Which is OK for a kid to do, but do you really want your 4 year old running your relationship? I think not.
As an adult what can you do when your abandonment issues get triggered and something that has nothing to do with you, i.e. your partner needing some alone time, becomes so blown out of proportion?
1.Pause: This is the most crucial part of the whole deal. If you get triggered and then the 4 year old comes out and starts running the show, watch out! The 4 year old is good for playing, laughing, and creating but not for negotiating emotional needs in your relationship. You need your adult on-line for that.
2.Connect with yourself: Now go into yourself and notice the trigger happening, what goes on for you? Do you get angry? Anxious? Fearful? Tightening in the belly? In the chest? Throat? Take note and stay connected to what is happening.
3.Share what is happening: In a non-judgmental way, towards yourself or your partner, share what is happening for you. You could say something like this: “I am getting anxious/angry/afraid when I hear you need space. I know this is about some old stuff for me that I am trying to explore and heal from. I want to talk more about this when I am not triggered.” Or if you feel like your partner can hold the space for you share in the moment. See if there is a need you can ask to be met. Maybe for reassurance, or touch that would help you stay grounded.
4.Feel what happens when you try something different: This is where the change starts to happen. See how you feel after communicating. Rather than shutting down, getting angry, or obsessing you just tried something new. Congratulations! You had enough love for yourself to get out of your habitual pattern, even if it was only for a few seconds. And as a mentor of mine says, “If you try some new behavior and it feels hard, excellent, you are on the way to healing!”
5.Resolve to try again: This the deal, if you have abuse, neglect, trauma, or a dysfunctional family system you might need to work with these feelings of abandonment more than once. Just know it is worthwhile to stick with it. One day you will not react to your partner asking for space but respond with something like, “Sure, honey, I want you to take care of your self.” And that will be a sweet day indeed!
(Also, a great way to move through this faster and more efficiently is with a therapist trained in trauma and relationship issues. They can offer more tools and insights than what comes to you on your own. And the added support is really necessary as you navigate these types of attachment issues.)
“Karolina walks her talk, her ability to meet another in their capacities is sensational because she has done her own work” -Diane Israel
"An effective therapist needs to do at least two things: be compassionate and provide constructive feedback that actually changes the way people experience the world. I see many therapists who can do one or the other. I routinely watch Karolina do both..." -Patrick Weeg