My partner, Shaun, and I have been together for 17 years. We have three children, and we highly value family.
What happens, though, when valuing family is code for "avoiding your relationship" or even "avoiding yourself and your needs"?
That avoidance caught up with Shaun and me about nine years ago.
I'd just given birth to our second child, been laid off from my college teaching job of seven years, and was struggling with who I was and what I was worth.
I'd reach out to Shaun, my partner, and try to connect, but with my depression he was struggling to keep our household going and was depleted himself. He'd dive back into his work, and I'd abruptly leave the house in anger and frustration.
Instead of pulling me in, he pushed me away. Instead of asking for what I needed, I left.
That was until neither of us could continue on in the same way.
"You have to go," he told me one evening. "I have to send you away. I can't deal with your stress right now and take care of the kids at the same time."
And though I was hurt, I left for two nights to rest and recover in isolation.
I came back a new woman and a new mother.
You can also listen to this week's podcast, and hear Shaun talk about sending me away as a coping strategy while we also explore disconnection, emotional intimacy, and doing the opposite as a technique for connection.
Ready to give it a try yourself?
Move through these four steps for how to Do the Opposite:
STEP ONE: Observe Your Patterns
When you experience conflict with your partner, notice what your reaction is. It's likely to be one of the four reactions we see in creatures in nature: fight, flee, freeze, or feign death.
We all have patterns that protect us from threats when we don't feel loved, safe, or like we belong. We learned them in childhood, and they may no longer be effective. It's time to choose something else.
STEP TWO: Get Curious
Once you start to see your patterns, get curious about whether your innate reactions have been serving you. Ask yourself, "Has this reaction been helping me feel loved, safe, and like I belong?"
If the answer is no, continue on to step three. If yes, keep doing what you do.
STEP THREE: Do the Opposite
If you recognize that your habits when experiencing conflict are not serving you, take a deep breath, dig deep into your strength, and get ready to do the opposite.
Do you usually run? Try staying and listening.
Normally fight? Trying standing still.
Is it normal for you to freeze? Can you fight for what you want?
STEP FOUR: Be Patient and Compassionate With Yourself
Sidestepping our habits and patterns to choose something new is difficult. It often takes several fights or conflicts for us to observe our patterns, let alone stop ourselves from reacting to choose something different.
Transformation and growth come when we can choose with great intention the actions we want to take. Sometimes choosing can be overwhelming, so this mid-step of Do the Opposite is a bridge to slowing down patterns and reactions and choosing something else.
Try it for yourself, and let me know how it goes. It's an inexact exercise meant to get you out of your comfort zone and into a new way of seeing yourself and your partner.
You might be surprised with what you find.
Wishing you all the best,