Ten years ago (but my husband remembers), I turned the light out and started to climb into bed when I felt something moving around near my ear. Shrieking, I asked Sam (who was already snug in bed) to turn the light back on. My distress escalated, and I found myself screaming, begging him to please hurry.
When he got to me, I was cupping my ear. As I let go of it, I released a small flying insect. “Why didn’t you just shoo it away?” asked Sam.
At that, I started to cry. And he could see I was upset. Then, we both got back in bed; as we snuggled, I continued to cry and fell asleep.
The next morning, I remembered what happened. And, with a sheepish grin, I said to him, “I wonder if I had some traumatic experience with an insect when I was a little girl.” Clearly (to both of us, I’m sure) I had overreacted.
It was later that day when I realized what actually transpired. For sure, I was startled by the insect and felt helpless in the dark. But when Sam responded with obvious nonchalance to my distress, I lost it and started crying. The unnerving experience I’d had as a child probably wasn’t specific to an insect; it was my being in distress over something and crying for somebody to come running to my aid.
“When we were babies, we didn’t smile sweetly at our mothers to get them to take care of us. We didn’t pinpoint our discomfort by putting it into words. We simply opened our mouths and screamed. And it didn’t take us long to learn that, the louder we screamed, the quicker they came,” says Harville Hendrix in his best-seller, “Getting the Love You Want.”
I had screamed and met with Sam’s typical take-it-in-stride attitude, especially about insects (the man’s a veterinarian). So, although the “danger” was over, I felt even more distressed and needed the comfort of his arms.
I tell this story because often we scream to get somebody’s attention, without even realizing that what we’re really doing is crying out for help. And our partners don’t respond to our cries the way our caregivers did. After all, now we’re old enough to explain what’s wrong. And in some cases, we could just “shoo it away.”
When we don’t shoo it away and, perhaps, inflate it instead, we can be faced with nonchalance or even intolerance…and, yes, that’s enough to perpetuate our distress. And we just might continue to scream louder — fueling our own distress (or anger) — rather than just cry and fall asleep. (Smile.)
From this, you can recall your own scenarios. How many times have you felt hurt and cried out for help? Oh, and how many times has your partner felt accused or been blamed by your cries … and responded in kind?
Maybe, you were feeling desperate to spend some intimate time together and ended up accusing your sweetheart of spending too much time sitting in front of the TV or having lunch with friends. Or, maybe you really needed to talk and blamed your partner for never listening to a single word you say.
You get the idea: We can attack a partner — instead of asking for help — and trigger a battle, instead of receiving the reassuring words and arms we want.
Now that we can — with some conscious thought — recognize precisely what’s wrong and put it into words, it really makes sense for us to do that. It’s our best shot at the response we want from a partner.
And, hey, then if you’re occasionally startled and overreact, your sweetheart just might cut you some slack and hold you until you feel better.