Have you ever found yourself exploding over finding socks on the floor or the blankets mussed up on the bed? In the television sitcom “Mad About You” there is a classic moment where Jamie sums up one of her frustrations with Paul in a short and impressionable manner.
While using humor may be a good strategy for expressing frustration there is often a complete disconnect for the receiving partner as to what actually matters to their “worked up” significant other. It’s easy to forget that beneath these “little” things are loads of history and some BIG associations.
Each of us carries around a collection of meanings we have either consciously, or more often, unconsciously assigned to various behaviors. When we suddenly respond in a huge way to something we are usually not reacting to what just happened but rather to the meaning or story we give it based on past associations. This can make it pretty, er, interesting for our partners in our day-to-day interactions.
It’s our job as loving and conscious partners to help each other understand what these Big Little Things actually mean to us. And the only way we can do that is to be aware of our own triggers. Les Brown, considered one of the all-time greatest motivational speakers, says we must continuously work on ourselves in order to be successful in the world. This is true for our relationships as well.
So how are you working on yourself? Do you take time to meditate, self-reflect, speak with a mentor/counselor/spiritual teacher, participate in a spiritual community or regular spiritual practice? Do you care for your body through fun and consistent physical activities, nourishing food and loving attention? Are you willing to look at yourself in the mirror and take responsibility for those areas where you are tender and vulnerable? Do you know how to soothe yourself when needed? Are you striving to grow as a person? Do you expect your partner to make you feel better or happy or confident or whatever? Are you able to ask your partner for reasonable, specific and doable support?
For me, those socks on the floor used to be a real trigger. I discovered that I was telling myself that when my partner left socks on the floor it meant, “I’m not important to him because he expects me to pick up after him. He thinks his time is more valuable than mine and he doesn’t care about me and what I have to do each day. He doesn’t take me very seriously.” (Wow, those are some very powerful socks!) After some of my own self-work and reflection I came to realize that the socks on the floor weren’t saying anything at all. I had a story about them from a relationship where I was not valued in the ways I deserved, and also from some experiences in my childhood when I felt I wasn’t really being seen and heard for my true self.
So with this new understanding, I could choose to pick up those socks and put them in the hamper, or not. I could choose to share with my partner how putting his socks away would be helpful and appreciated. I might tell him about what those socks mean to me and why. Or I might just let them lay where they are without saying anything. Perhaps he will put them away when he discovers that he has no clean socks because the dirty ones weren’t in the laundry room. Or maybe he never will be good at picking up his socks! If that’s true, what do I want to do about that?
The key is that once I uncover the trigger and recognize that the story I am telling myself is not accurate or helpful, there are choices. In Imago work we would have a dialogue about this and deepen our intimacy and connection through moving from blame, shame or criticism to empathy and understanding. We also might ask one another for a Behavior Change Request where we get to ask for a new behavior and our partner gets to decide what they are willing to do now that they understand what is underneath the frustration.
So I invite you to turn your Big Little Things into Big Loving Things with your partner and create new choices for yourself, and your relationship. And have some good laughs along the way!
Sofia works with couples and individuals to help them uncover their own triggers and stories so they can make more fulfilling choices in their relationships. Whether it’s socks, dishes or mowing the lawn you can turn your Big Little Things into Big Loving Things! Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 503-544-3559 to set up an appointment.