by Dr. John Hart, LGMFT
Making your partner feel secure in your relationship is a 24 hour/7 days a week full-time job. But, the best time to really bring your “A game” is when your partner is having a vulnerable emotional experience. If you have ever struggled during times in which your partner was having a vulnerable moment, do NOT feel bad! It is actually quite difficult to know for sure how to feel, think and act during these moments. Why?
Well, first off, vulnerability brings out raw and intense emotions that range from hurt and sadness to disgust and shame; these emotions are always hard to pick up on immediately and there is no “quick fix” to solving them. Second, trying to make your partner feel secure when they are vulnerable is very hard because we have our own emotions to manage as well. These situations leave us in a state of confusion and we subconsciously ask ourselves: who’s emotions do I deal with first – ours or our partner’s emotions? And lastly, making your partner feel secure during a vulnerable moment may call for more effort and patience on your part.
This is hard in and of itself because we tend to have an eagerness towards resolving their feelings and the issue very quickly (I mean, who wants to see their partner distressed for a long time?). So here are three helpful strategies to utilize the next time your partner is having a vulnerable emotional experience?
Focus on the Physical State – One of the best ways to restoring emotional security in our partner’s life is to help them calm down by slowing things down physiologically. Usually, when we are vulnerable, our thoughts and our emotions are intense and are running fast. So, help your partner slow down by engaging in various techniques – deep breathing, turning off any type of noise (e.g., television, radio), calming the kids down, dimming the lights, and even getting them a cold beverage. These techniques will help your partner slow down because it focuses on physiologically calming down and this provides the gateway to them calming down emotionally so they can talk about what is going on.
- Process the actual emotions (not the event) – Our favorite question to ask our partner when they are having a vulnerable emotional experience is “What happened?” Now it is important to ask this because we need context on what caused so much distress to our partners. But the problem we fall into is that we focus on the event and NOT the vulnerable emotions themselves. This ends up leaving our partner still feeling insecure as their emotions are more important than the event. So ask these questions: “How are you feeling right now?”; “What are all of the emotions going on for you?” (Hint: we can experience multiple emotions at the same time); And “How intense is your (feelings)?”
- Inquire about your partner’s needs – And finally, always end these situations with asking your partner a very important question: “What do you need from me right now in this moment?” This question is such a powerful question to ask your partner because it shows them that you are focused on them, you are willing to go the distance, and that their well-being is your primary concern in that moment. All three of these implications will get the ball rolling on restoring their emotional security.