Many years ago, a friend was patiently listening to me lament about my frustrations with a boyfriend. He gave me a piece of advice that has proved helpful ever since: Don’t go to your partner to put a salve on your own emotional wounds.
I’ve shared this wisdom with a lot of people. About a third of them quickly argued back “That’s precisely what your partner is for!” Another third asked, “Well what if they are the one causing the wound?” In both cases a conversation would then ensue about what a relationship could look like if both partners took care of their own emotional wounds — no matter what the source of the upset.
It wasn’t until many years later, though, that I really understood this advice on an even deeper level. I noticed that whenever it felt like my partner was doing something that felt hurtful it was usually either 1) he was unknowingly triggering an old wound of mine that had nothing to do with him or 2) he was acting out of his own old wound. Either way, it was my job to put the salve on my heartaches.
We accidentally shoot arrows into each other’s hearts if we don’t stay on top of those tender places in our own hearts. That’s the bad news and the very good news. It can be painful, of course, but those arrows are excellent pointers.
Look here! There’s something that needs your loving attention!
What if when we were triggered by the errant arrow, we could quickly stop ourselves in our emotional tracks, look inside our hearts for the true source of the pain, and listen to the wisdom of that arrow’s shot.
Imagine interacting with our beloved with this level of self-awareness.
Imagine if we were all adept at doing this for ourselves.
Imagine the peace that would be rippling through all of our hearts and the world.
Until that blissful moment in our planet’s history, give this “Stop, Look & Listen” method a shot:
Stop — Usually when we are triggered we are either jettisoning ourselves back into the past or out into the future, comparing our pictures of what life should look like against the past or our dreams of the future. Imagine a stop sign in your mind’s eye, so you can presence yourself to look at what is currently triggering you.
Look – Once you are in the present moment you can look inside your heart. List all the emotions you are feeling. Find the one overriding emotion, the one most clearly stopping you from being in a loving space. Ask yourself when you first remember experiencing that feeling. Note: it might be when you were quite young and didn’t even have the emotional intelligence to name it.
Listen – Let yourself relax into this inquiry, so you can easily meander in your memories and listen for the answer to that question. Putting our attention on that earlier wound and listening to its wisdom can help us unravel it from our potential overreaction to the current incoming arrow. Let it tell you what you need to do to feel safe and loved again.
I still need to use this method when I feel like a beloved is pulling away, because abandonment is a wound that is still healing in my heart to some degree. My dad divorced my mom when I was seven and then a few years later moved thousands of miles away. So any time a beloved appears to be putting distance between us I must step up and manage my own feelings. Most important, I must extricate my seven and eleven-year-old reactions from my adult reality.
Usually, it’s as easy a fix as telling that little girl still inside me that she is profoundly loved no matter what, that she always has been — even when it might not have felt like it from her perspective. Those little pieces in our hearts sometimes need something as simple as a loving nod from us, assuring them we are here to love and heal them.
We are bumping into each other’s heart wounds all day long. We don’t even have to be physically present with someone to be hit by their unintended arrows. Texts can be effective bows, pulled back swiftly, nearly without thought, and providing perfect aim for those arrows.
The more unattended heart wounds we have the deeper those arrows can penetrate and the heavier our own quivers will be. The good news is the only quiver you must keep your eye on is your own. The more practice you have managing it, the lighter your load will be. You will shoot fewer arrows and likely be a kinder and gentler partner. And you will be facile at plucking arrows from your heart, so that you and your partner can more easily return to love.