Monday, March 23, 2009

HELP... My Partner's Having An Emotional Meltdown

It's been one of those days when we've been trying to keep ourselves calm and centered in the midst of our partner having a melt down. As the pressure and hostility build, we feel as if we are about to explode. We bite our tongue, the air crackles with tension, we feel as if we are going to scream. What do we do now? What tools do we have to help us get through this crisis?

One of the most difficult times we may face in a relationship comes when our partner becomes emotionally unbalanced and cannot soothe themselves back into stability. The ensuing hours or days can be draining, upsetting and extremely difficult. A partner who has this pattern may be unpredictable in daily life causing much stress and tension. Unpredictability creates a feeling of walking on egg shells and the need by others to be hyper-vigilant in an attempt to avoid potentially triggering an emotional melt down.

Why is it that some people can effectively calm themselves in short order, while others may take hours or even days to regain balance? When we are small children we do not have the capacity to self soothe. We depend on our caretakers to lull us back into balance when we have become upset. They may cuddle us, coo at us, talk gently to us or simply smile at us. We respond by emulating their emotional stability. We imprint their model for handling stress onto our lives and make it our own.

What happens when our caretakers are unable to handle the stress in their lives... when they do not have the capacity to bring themselves back into balance? A caretaker who is in turmoil may not have the presence of mind to realize that their inability to interact appropriately with their environment is being imprinted on their children. If we grew up in a home with drama, tension, hostility and anger, it is likely that we may be unable to moderate our emotions. We may, as children, have never seen emotional balance exemplified and therefore have no experience with appropriate reactions. When we became emotionally upset, there may have been no one who was centered to soothe us back into balance. Now as adults, we are unlikely to be able to bring ourselves back into balance after emotional upset. We may have relied upon external regulators to accomplish this for us with unhappy results.

If our partner is one who may not be able to regain their emotional balance easily, we must practice self care at those difficult times. One of our most effective tools is to take ourselves out of the equation. We recognize that our partner is having an emotional melt down. We realize that we cannot stop the process, nor are we responsible for our partners inability to process their feelings in an appropriate manner. There is nothing we can do to help our partner.

We can take care of ourselves. We lovingly excuse ourselves from the situation. We can take a walk, go for a drive, enjoy a hot bath, get a latte, visit a friend or just run an errand. Getting ourselves out of the situation and away from the tension for even a half hour can be enough to regain our center and perspective. We will need all our empathy to get through the next few hours. We may wish to focus on how grateful we are that we can moderate our own emotional response, and how unfortunate it is that our partner must suffer so greatly.

Once we have regained our composure and feel calm we can make an informed decision about our next action. If our partner has a pattern that takes many hours or days, we may wish to take in a movie, do some shopping, visit a museum or just spend time with friends. We allow ourselves to enjoy our time and give our partner the space to deal with their feelings. We can let our partner know that we will be available when they have regained focus and wish to once again to be part of our social circle.

It may be tempting to become enraged at our partner when this pattern repeats itself in our daily lives. We may begin to feel that precious time is being wasted. We must recall that we are in charge of how we use our time. We have the choice in each moment of what we do next. If we practice self care and allow ourselves to feel pleasure and joy despite our partners situation, we will use our time productively and increase our self esteem.

Although we may feel we are abandoning our partner at a critical time, we are in reality doing them a great service. We are telling them through our actions that they are valued and loved, that we have confidence that they are competent to handle their situation without assistance and return to us a calmer more centered person. In this way we allow our partner to build their self esteem as they learn to manage their emotions in a productive way, without having us present as a distraction or pathway for blame. At the same time we give ourselves the gift of time... time to enjoy our daily lives and pursue our own interests and pleasures.

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