*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a long-time friend who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
He sat on the sofa, thumbing through a magazine, waiting. The technician was supposed to arrive within a 4-hour window, and time seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace.
She’d left him alone in her apartment before. They weren’t an official couple — not anymore. She trusted him, and that made him happy. But he’d made it very clear that he wanted to get back together. And things appeared to be headed in that direction.
And so he waited.
By the second hour, he began feeling restless and fidgety. There was nothing worthwhile on television, and after he finished lunch, reading was no longer an option for fear that he'd doze off.
It wasn't long before he started pacing. Being idle had never been good for him. It gave him too much time to pick at things and make-up stories — the kind of stories that didn’t end well.
He thought she might be seeing someone else, which would explain why she hadn’t agreed to get back together. He wondered what the other guy was like.
Was he more attractive?
Did he have more money?
Was he better in bed?
He rifled through the drawers of her night table and read her journal. He checked under the bed and rummaged through her closet.
Was he searching for proof of his rightness? Or her wrongness? He wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for, but he was determined to find it.
The sound of the doorbell jolted him back to reality. He realized that he’d all but destroyed her bedroom. But he felt confident that he'd have plenty of time to clean up after the technician left.
Then he turned to find her standing in the doorway. She was wearing a scowl of disgust so intense it seemed to burn right through his skin. The color completely drained from his face.
And just like that, they are finished — that time for good.
You might disagree with what I’m about to say, but that doesn’t make it less real. Most relationships don’t end up in ruins for the reasons you think. The culprit is typically not bad spending habits, sexlessness, or cheating. Sometimes we are the biggest threat to our relationships.
Before you scroll to the comment section to share your scathing opinion, hear me out.
Relationships bring up our stuff.
We have been surrounded by relationships our entire life. We learned how to interact and engage by watching others. The ideas and beliefs that govern how we show up to our connections were formed long before we could string words into a sentence. But our relationship reality is deeper than that.
The relationships we imagine are mostly fictionalized. Pixelated images pulled from movies, television, and YouTube. We visualize the relationship with a solid storyline, plot points, and happily ever after. *cue credits*
That’s not how things work in real life.
On this side of reality, relationships look different. Problems can't be solved in 120-minutes or less. There are no speed-through-the-rough-patch montages. Fairy godmothers and pumpkins are sold separately.
In our actual lives, our partners often grate on our last nerve. They have terrible habits, unruly behavior, and trouble listening. They push our buttons and know all the shortcuts to our triggers.
Partners don't always respond the way we want them to. They may not always share our interests or our enthusiasm. And yes, sometimes partners get impatient as we work through our stuff because they’ve got plenty of their own.
But they also see us looking a hot mess and acting like a complete jerk, and they stick around. At least for as long as they can. It can be scary to have a partner who loves our dirty knickers, which scares the bejeezus out of us, which might explain why we often go out of the way to mess things up, accidentally on purpose time and time again.
Relationships trip our wires. Fear of abandonment. Mommy issues. Daddy issues. Fear of rejection. Unworthiness. Imposter syndrome. Problems trusting. Resistance to intimacy. Sexual anxiety. Not-enoughness.
And while our partners might precipitate our uncomfortable feelings, they do not create them.
We must own our triggers.
Our partners are not responsible for how we respond to the things that trigger us, which doesn’t give them the right to push our buttons intentionally. But it's up to us to control our responses.
I understand that a partner’s behavior, or lack thereof, may be upsetting. But that doesn’t make us a victim of circumstance. We are solely accountable for our triggers and are also responsible for healing them.
Triggers are survival responses.
The human brain is like a file cabinet, where the painful files are stored at the front. So whenever something hurts, our brain connects the pain to whatever is happening at that moment. Then it saves the pain and the incident in the file labeled trigger(s).
Recognizing our triggers is essential. But just because we know what sets us off doesn’t give a pass to cock our loaded triggers and aim them at others. Once we know something, we become responsible for what we know. Triggers are no exception.
Self-compassion is medicine.
This might sound simple, but the people who are the least reactive to triggers are those who are kind to themselves. Conversely, those who tend to talk down to others are usually just as mean (if not more) to themselves.
But for most of us, self-compassion takes practice. We weren’t born being unkind to ourselves; it’s a habit we developed over time, which is how we will relearn self-kindness.
Self-compassion grants us access to the tools to disengage the trigger. It allows us to advocate for ourselves. The feelings of helplessness that bubble to the surface when a trigger is engaged will begin to dissipate when we are kind to ourselves. In turn, we will become less prone to lashing out and misbehaving with our partners and others.
Self-awareness makes for better relationships.
The friend I mentioned at the start of this post was admittedly not aware at the time. Self-awareness would have stopped him from making up a story. He would have recognized that his idle thoughts set off his insecurity trigger. And rather than trolling through her things, he might have opted to have a conversation instead.
Recognizing and dissolving our triggers is a part of self-awareness. The more self-aware we are, the better we’ll be at relationship-ing. And with practice, our triggers will no longer create a negative response. But instead, they’ll create space for deeper intimacy with ourselves and others.
Originally published at https://medium.com