Hello, guys and gals! Have things been going too good to be true? Are you suspicious of your partner's true motives? Great! Here's your fool-proof guide to shutting your partner down and getting you back to your comfy, familiar cycle. Guaranteed.
1) Don't praise them.
If they do something kind or sweet, don't praise them. After all, no one praises you for the little things you do. Why should they get a cookie for every little effort? Instead, remain silent and don't acknowledge that you notice their efforts. Even better...
2) Pull the old, "well, look who finally showed up..."
Otherwise known as: punishment. Yes, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The second that she initiates intimacy for the first time in months (nay, years) or he plans a date night for just the two of you - remind them that you are still upset about all the times they didn't do the thing. Remind them that they have a lot of ground to make up for, and you refuse to be so easily pleased. Here are some handy examples!
"Oh, look, a date night. Why would you do it during the school week? You never listen to me, I told you that I'm always tired after working all day!"
"Really? Now you want sex, right when I'm about to hop on a game with the guys? You're only offering because you know I won't be interested."
Or, more simply, "I don't want you to do something because I asked for it - I want you to just know!"
These are guaranteed to create a discouragement and exasperation, and ensure that your partner will never try again! Success!
3) Start a fight
Why not? If you are noticing that you two are improving, experiencing more closeness - go ahead and let your anxiety take over. Listen to the voice that says something is about to blow up. Pay excruciating attention to your partner's every move. Forget that they are human, and definitely assume that you know their deepest, most personal intentions. Then - go! Argue, escalate, let anger and anxiety take the front seat. Don't worry about rational. Your personal thoughts and beliefs about others are 100% accurate, 100% of the time.
There you have it! The top 3 fail-proof ways to guarantee that your partner will shut down.
You could try something different.
Obviously, the aforemetioned strategies are prime ways to sabotage your relationship. Sadly, they are extremely common. They are our defense mechanisms...all that residual hurt trying to make it extremely obvious to our partner, our safe person, that "I don't feel safe and I need you to know that. I need you to fix it."
We've all done them. I've done them (especially #2, yikes). But they don't help us. They hurt us even more and create self-fulfilling prophecies.
No matter how natural these responses may seem, they are grenades to your relationship.
You have options. Maybe try one of these out instead:
1) Point out the little things
The small differences you've noticed in your partner that you genuinely appreciate. Don't worry about consistency or frequency or how small it is compared to the mountain of your complaints. Not here, not now. Start by verbally affirming the little things that they do that are in alignment with the person you'd most love to see.
"Hey, babe, thanks for taking out the trash last night. I was so tired, it was such a relief to see that."
"I felt very wanted when you initiated sex last night. I was so glad to spend that time with you."
And, if you want to level up - celebrate the big things, too!
"I know that it's been hard battling your depression lately. It made me so happy to see you playing with the kids earlier. I felt like I got to see a glimpse of your true smile again. I've missed you."
2) Stay in the moment
This one has an easy cheat-sheet. If you think of something in the past - let it pass by. Acknowledge the feeling in your body, but don't hold on to it, verbalize it, let it set up camp in your head space.
Stay in the moment. What do you like that you are seeing? What can you hear your partner saying? What do you smell? Taste? Feel?
Here's an example:
Clarissa arrives home from work and notices that her husband is hand-washing the dishes. The dishwasher has been broken for weeks, and he still hasn't called for someone to come and fix it. What would be a helpful first action?
(A) Walk past him and continue with what she was doing. The dishes are the least he could do.
(B) "Thanks for taking care of those, babe."
(C) "Did you call people to come fix that dishwasher yet?"
3) Take a pause
You might be heated. It happens - you're human, and that's good. But self-control is necessary to building something healthy with our partner. If you know that you aren't going to be your best self, take a pause. I'd suggest verbally articulating this to your person. "I'm not going to respond the way I want to right now. I need to step away for a second. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Recollect yourself. Recenter. Process what it is you're really wanting your partner to hear (without the insults, defensiveness, criticism and pointed jabs). Then, once you are recollected, return. That part is more critical than the pause itself. Don't use "I need to calm down" as an excuse to abandon your partner. That's your teammate out there, man. Return.
You are growing. You are becoming more and more aware of your old habits, and your moments of unhealthy communication are becoming less intense, less frequent, and less prolonged. This is improvement! Celebrate your wins and keep going! I believe in you.