What you will learn from reading this article:
- How partners can help each other be more mindful of emotions
- How partners can meet each other’s emotional needs
Many of us go into relationships expecting our partners to be experts in managing their own emotions – and also perhaps managing ours to a certain extent. And when they fail to do this, we feel let down or hurt.
However, the reality is that we all have different levels of skill when it comes to managing our emotions, depending on our past experiences, traumas, and how emotional regulation was role-modelled to us as children.
Ultimately, it is our own responsibility to learn how to manage our emotions. Nonetheless, it can be extremely helpful when partners are aligned in becoming more self-aware and are able to support each other in the process.
Here are 3 ways partners can help each other manage emotions better:
1. Be each other’s mindfulness bell
When we get triggered, it’s easy for us to lose conscious awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and actions. It can feel like emotions are taking over us. It is only after we become aware of ourselves that we can take control of emotions.
Couples can remind each other to be mindful when they get emotional by:
- Understanding what situations usually trigger your partner
- Understanding your partner’s behaviours when they are triggered (for example, withdrawing, pacing around, raising voice, compulsive behaviour)
- Asking your partner what you can do or say to remind them to be mindful when they are triggered (for example, “dear, I think you’re going into that mode, please come back to me”)
- Being more attuned to your partner’s emotions, so you know when to gently and lovingly remind them to be more aware
2. Learn to address each other’s needs
Our emotions are triggered when our needs are not met.
For example, when our need for safety is not met, it can trigger anxiety. When our need for connection is not met; it can trigger sadness or the need to be clingy.
When we are emotionally triggered, we can go into an unconscious state where we are unable to meet our own needs.Couples can play a role in soothing each other’s emotions when triggered by addressing the unmet needs underlying their partner’s behaviour.
To do this, it is important that couples communicate regularly to understand:
- What happens inside your partner when they get triggered? (for example, what thoughts run through their head, what feelings they feel in their body, etc)
- What past traumas are they reminded of when they get triggered?
- What are their unmet needs underlying those emotions?
- What you can do to address those unmet needs when your partner is triggered? (for example, if your partner’s trauma of believing they are “not good enough” and lack of appreciation gets triggered, you could say something like “You are enough; you are doing your best and that is enough”)
3. Learn to manage your own emotions
Two emotionally triggered people cannot support each other to regulate their emotions. It requires at least one person to take charge of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions at that moment, and respond rather than react.
For example, if your partner’s anxiety is triggered, it does not help that you get frustrated and stressed as well. Staying calm will help your partner know they are safe and help them calm down too.
Here are a few ways partners can work on their individual ability to manage emotions, especially in moments of conflict:
- Finding practices that help increase self-awareness (for example, mindfulness and introspection)
- Finding practices that help release emotions (for example, breathwork, yoga, sound therapy, grounding)
- Engaging with a professional (for example by going for couples therapy or relationship counselling) to identify the root of the trauma that is causing your emotional triggers, and healing them
Importance of Setting Boundaries
Having said this, it is important that you set boundaries for yourself in this process:
- Being clear on what is your responsibility vs. what is not (for example, you can regulate your own responses and support your partner, but you cannot control how your partner reacts)
- Expressing yourself when your partner crosses your boundaries (for example, when they are disrespectful or aggressive). Try to do this from a space of love rather than being triggered. For example, instead of saying, “you have no right to disrespect me!”, say “I am here to listen and hold space for you, but I cannot do it when I am disrespected. Can we please have a conversation without hurtful words?”
- Asking for space when you need a time out
Managing emotions is one of the greatest challenges in a relationship. The practices we have outlined here are some of the most difficult for couples to do. But they are possible with practice and consistency.
You cannot expect to be perfect at managing emotions all the time. It will take many trials and errors. But each time you try, you learn what works and what does not, and you get better at it.
Each person’s capability to regulate emotions is different. Thus, it is normal that at the start, one partner could generally be more aware and in control of their emotions than the other.
However, as you work together and support your partner, you will start to understand your partner better and grow closer. We (Kavitha and Kester) know this not from theory, but from our own experience.