I was at a women’s networking event almost two years ago now, but one conversation has stuck with me. I was sitting with a small group of women in a comfy co-working space, and we were all sharing about our relationships – the ups, downs, and all it took to navigate these intimate connections.
One of the women shared how her boyfriend was very aloof and never paid attention to her requests until she got mad and finally “blew up” and screamed at him.
“Why do I always have to yell to get his attention?” she sighed.
There was some chatter and agreement. I let the other women help her process this grievance, but when we were walking out after the event just the two of us, I left her with my thoughts.
This is actually a common complaint I hear from clients in my relationship coaching practice. At some point in both my private and group coaching containers, I take women through what I call a “relationship detox” experience where we examine old residue they’re holding toward their exes and other baggage they’ve been carrying around and I walk them through seeing what their roles were and how they contributed to the dynamic.
It always leaves them feeling empowered and with a new sense of control. Oftentimes, they’re then able to look forward to their next dating experience with excitement because they now know how to show up differently since they’re aware of their patterns.
After studying relationships as extensively as I have, there’s just so much nuance, subtlety, and attention required to really make a relationship thrive – skills we’ve never really been taught. Understanding these dynamics, however, can be the difference between an intimate, loving, and deep connection or a flat, boring relationship filled with discontent.
Maybe you relate to this woman at the event. You find yourself asking for things nicely, perhaps you ask earnestly, but it isn’t until you raise your voice and make a big scene that your partner finally starts to take notice and take you seriously. I have some ideas for you if you frequently end up in this spot.
Say The “First Generation” Thought
I always like to ask, “Were there things going on that you were letting slide leading up to this explosion? Were there emotions you’ve been suppressing? Are you sitting on a bunch of withholds that you’ve been silently keeping score of and seething in?”
Oftentimes, the answer is yes.
The truth loses potency when we over-analyze or over-process in our minds or with people who are outside the relationship who aren’t our partners. It’s now a watered-down version of what wants to be expressed. It may even now be a compilation of other people’s thoughts and opinions and no longer reflects how you actually feel.
Work on speaking up in the moment and saying the “first generation” version of what it is you need to say.
You may not even know what you necessarily need or want from your partner, but you can practice saying something along the lines of “Hey, I noticed you did this and it didn’t feel great. I’m feeling myself wanting to withdraw and get mad at you, and I’d rather just be honest right now.” Open up a dialogue from there.
This is important because it prevents a buildup of resentment. It prevents you from bottling things up until some catalyst or major event needs to happen to finally blow the lid off. Sometimes we’re sneaky like that, ignoring the whisper until it becomes a scream and until you have no choice but to create drama instead of having brought up the issue in real time to reach a resolution in the moment.
Work on expressing yourself and using your voice in your relationship as you feel the feelings and sensations arise.
Actually Be Honest About How You’re Feeling
There is a lot of social conditioning that comes up around “feelings,” especially if you were raised in a family that didn’t freely express emotions or didn’t make space for them. You may struggle now to navigate your own internal landscape. There’s a chance you may not even have the language or words to describe the sensations that arise. On top of that, as a society, there’s a lot less tolerance for the “darker” emotions: anger, rage, frustration.
Sometimes it isn’t completely appropriate to blow off your steam in real time or to express the true intensity of the anger you feel in the moment to somebody standing right in front of you or to partners who may be trying their best. Maybe anger elicits guilt or shame inside of you and makes you feel horrible for being angry at all, so you doubt that your feelings are valid.
How do you then honor those feelings without suppressing them? How do you share how you really feel with those around you?
It’s a lifelong practice.
The first step is to simply name what’s going on. Get curious with yourself. See if you can bring in more awareness.
You might hear some of these in your running internal commentary: “Wow, this conversation is really irritating me…I wonder what that’s about. I notice I’m feeling all this anger when you don’t take my side. I’m feeling really lonely right now. I feel really annoyed that my friend posted about our intimate conversation on Instagram.”
See if you can become a nonjudgmental observer of your thoughts and feelings and work on getting honest with yourself first.
Trust That Your Partner Can Handle Your Full Range of Emotion
As humans, we’re hard-wired for connection. We love, need, and crave the feeling of being seen, heard, and accepted, especially by those we love or are in a relationship with. When we’re not being totally honest with how we feel moment to moment, we’re rejecting ourselves and not honoring those feelings that are often trying to tell us something. In the end, if we push the feelings down and move on or try to bypass them, we’re creating dissonance with those we care about most.
Over time, we can even lose our ability to hear our voice of intuition completely and it might stop talking to us.
Have you ever had someone respond with, “I’m fine,” when you knew they really weren’t, but you had no idea how to get an honest response from them?
That’s what was happening with the woman at the event. Every time she was annoyed or needed more help but didn’t ask, or felt frustrated but didn’t express it, her partner couldn’t actually feel her. He couldn’t access that state of connection he knew to exist between the two of them. It scared him; he may have even felt abandoned, maybe confused. We always want to feel secure in our connections and be understood.
She wasn’t trusting her partner to be able to be with her full range of emotion, her true annoyance, frustration, or feeling of being let down by him. Her limiting beliefs were in the way; she thought she was “too much” and “high maintenance.” Being seen by him in those spots would have been new, scary, vulnerable, and unknown for her.
The truth was that he did want to feel her there and be let into those parts of her.
But Why Do You Have To YELL To Get Their Attention?
When you’re ignoring yourself in all those moments, your partner will, too. You’ll ask for something to get done, but it’s really an ask on top of all the feelings you’re brooding. He won’t show up to do it; he won’t come through for you.
You’ll get increasingly more frustrated, as if you weren’t already. Eventually, with just the right angle and just the right circumstance – BAM – your system can’t hold it in anymore and you have a “crazy” outburst.
You may feel insane, but you might find your partner with a subtle smile on his face. Ahh, he can finally feel you again and he has his partner back. He’s missed you underneath all of that looking good and trying not to be a burden – all of that “I can handle it all myself.”
He wants the real you, the vulnerable, emotional, “too much” you.
So, do you really need to cause a dramatic scene and yell every time to get his attention?
No, not at all. You just have to get more comfortable with all that goes on inside yourself, trust, and do the work to be seen in connection moment to moment. I can guarantee a deeper, more intimate connection will ensue.