Last night as I was about to fall asleep at my girlfriend\’s, I began to hyperventilate, sweat all over, and generally freak out. This has happened maybe twice my entire life, always about work (I have a stressful job). This time, the only thing I was thinking about was my relationship. The panic attack happened last night even though we sleep over at each other\’s 4 or 5 days / week consistently
Some details about us / our relationship
- I (29M) have been dating her (30F) for a year
- First 9 months was incredible. The last 2-3 months have been more difficult – more fighting. Nothing aggressive or physical – usually emotional differences (e.g., didn\’t like I was spending time with a platonic female friend, I felt like we weren\’t high energy enough on a recent trip, she didn\’t feel like I was prioritizing her in certain situations)
- I think – in general – I recognize these 2 months to be a low point in our relationship, but I\’m not certain she considers it the same or is analyzing it the same way. I feel like these fights might be us trying desperately to hold onto something
- FYI – this is how my last relationship ended. But there was no communication. I\’m committed to communicating this time
- We have are similarities – we each have our phone vice (TikTok / Youtube), we like to read, grew in similar socioeconomic households, share similar friends, share love of our city & city energy, love to travel and travel together
- We have our differences – I work more / am more intense / physically active, educational backgrounds/ levels are different and may manifest in how we parent potential children, she\’s more emotionally available
What I am looking for advice on
- How do I explore these feelings in a way that\’s fair to me and to her? I don\’t want create strife unnecessarily if this is a one off. But I also feel strongly that keeping this from her is disingenuous
- How can I limit the physical impact this has on me in the short term? I got 4 hours of terrible sleep last night, can\’t sustain that
- A wrinkle is that she is coming home with me to meet my family for Thanksgiving (I am going to hers for New Year\’s). Do I tell her before Thanksgiving, and put more pressure on an already slightly difficult situation for her? Or do I wait?
- Anything else that comes to mind reading my post
I’m sorry that I didn’t see this question until today! I know that you were asking about whether you should tell her before Thanksgiving, which has passed. But you are going to her family for the New Year, so we have some time before that comes.
You asked how to explore your feelings in a way that’s fair to you and to her. What a wonderful question. You are already on the right track in considering her feelings along with yours.
If you haven’t already read Kiss Your Fights Goodbye, I suggest you do. This book is your relationship bible. As you master all the techniques in the book, you won’t even have to think about how to talk about an issue that’s troubling you. The techniques will be in your bones.
What you need to master is how to present your issues using my X, Y Formula. When you have the techniques I outline in the book firmly under your belt, you won’t stress in the future about discussing any topic with her.
There is some Self-Work involved before you present your issue. This work includes figuring out what Old Scars may be adding fuel to your current fire and Digging Up Love.
Then, you will think of a good Icebreaker, a sentence that lets her know you need to discuss a problem. I suggest that your Icebreaker be as neutral as possible. You don’t want to be seen as a you-know-what breaker. Ill-worded Icebreakers such as “We have to talk right now” or “You’ve done it again” are sure to get your mate’s back up; you can forget the dream of seeing a healthy discussion unfold if his fur is bristling.
Next, prepare the wording for the Lead-In. This is a positive statement that puts your partner at ease and creates a loving and safe climate for your discussion or negotiation. In the Lead-In, you will state why your partner is important to you, what you value about your relationship, or what traits you admire in him or her. Keying into traits that will facilitate the upcoming negotiation kills two relationship birds with one stone.
“I value our relationship and the love we share . . .”
“You are very special to me . . .”
“I have always admired your willingness to face problems head-on.”
When the Lead-In is prepared, move on to creating your Problem Statement.
The Problem Statement:
No matter how you sweeten the blow, delivering a Problem Statement is a confrontation. Most distressed couples have mastered the art of negative confrontation, which consists of emotional purging or “getting it off your chest.” But as you know, letting yourself emotionally rip never succeeds and always harms the relationship. So, remember, this is not the time for emotional venting. You should have already Drained Off the intensity of your feelings during Self-Work, and if you haven’t, you shouldn’t be addressing your conflict yet.
In fact, you should not approach your partner for a discussion until you’re ready to provide a positive confrontation that will set the proper climate and make your mate feel worthwhile, at ease, and motivated to want to move deeper into the negotiation process. It’s how you present the confrontation that will set the proper climate and determine if your negotiations move forward or not.
Your chances of resolution will depend upon your ability to stay cool, and this is especially true when you introduce your Problem Statement. Your goal is to present what upset you, and to describe, not express, your emotional reaction. The cooler and more detached you are, the greater your chances for a successful discussion.
Creating Your Problem Statement
There is a scientifically recognized formula for properly presenting your issue for discussion. The formula is in three parts: first, the Disclaimer; second, the Presentation of Your Issue; and third, the Suggestion for the Future. Let’s begin with the Disclaimer.
Presenting your problem to a partner whose ego is fragile or eroded (which is the case for most people in a distressed relationship) is a losing proposition. Your partner will feel wounded by the most innocent remarks, and will resort to making excuses, defending, denying, and counter-blaming in an unconscious attempt to pad his/her psyche. You can’t put your problem to someone who must ward off everything you say in order to stay mentally afloat.
Here’s where the Disclaimer comes in. It assures your mate that you’re on his side, even during a confrontation. It protects his psyche so that he no longer needs to bandage himself with excuses, defensiveness, and denial. When your mate’s ego is insulated, he’ll be more willing to listen to your issue.
“I know you didn’t mean to hurt (or upset) me.”
“I’m sure you didn’t realize how you were coming across.”
“I know you love me (and the kids) and you don’t want to hurt my (our) feelings.”
As you can see, the Disclaimer gives your partner the benefit of the doubt. When he/she feels that you aren’t assigning blame, he or she will no longer need to defend himself. If you’re still thinking: My partner knows very well what he’s doing to upset me, and giving him the benefit of the doubt would be a flat-out lie or I’ve told him a thousand times what bothers me, remember, you can’t say with 100 percent assurance that he ever heard what you said. Until recently, chronic ANS arousal made him deaf to your words.
If you’re still skeptical, you have my permission to retain your doubts. In fact, believe, if you like, that the Disclaimer will make no difference. Just use it anyway and watch centuries’ worth of wax dissolve from his/her ears.
After you’ve presented your Disclaimer, your partner will be primed and ready for you to present your issue.
Presentation of Your Issue: The X, Y Formula:
The proper way to present your issue is using the X, Y Formula, which consists of describing your mate’s upsetting behavior and then stating how you feel: “When you do x, I feel y.”
Notice that I told you to focus on the behavior that upset you. By focusing on your mate’s behavior, rather than on his person, you’ll be protecting his ego, which will keep his ANS arousal on ice.
It’s also possible to reverse the order of the X, Y Formula and say, “I felt y when you said or did x.” Based upon what you know about your mate, you’ll need to decide whether he would respond better if you were to lead with a description of your feelings instead of a description of his upsetting behavior.
Keep in mind that when you say, “I feel,” a highly defensive partner may be inclined to throw your words back in your face: “So, that’s what you feel. That’s your problem, not mine!” The translation of this statement is “Don’t blame me; my ego is too fragile to tolerate being wrong.” If your mate exhibits such defensiveness, you can be sure that his ego needs to be handled with kid gloves. And don’t be fooled—even if he’s a physical Mighty Man, he may actually be an emotional Minnie Mouse. The challenge then becomes how to prevent a fragile partner from blowing an emotional gasket. There is hope. In addition to the de-escalating effect of the Disclaimer, there is another technique that will help your mate swallow your Problem Statement.
Avoid the Word You
When a fragile person hears “You did x, y, or z,” he feels that a finger is being pointed at his ego, and you know what that means. You can take his ego off the hook by rewording your X, Y Formula so that the word you isn’t said at all. For example, “I feel x . . . when y happens” or “I feel x . . . when y is said (or done) to me.”
Prepare the Suggestion for the Future:
Your Problem Statement will be complete when you add the Suggestion for the Future. Remember, otherwise your partner may feel at a loss to translate emotional your distress into concrete solutions. Without a suggestion on how she can improve or please you in the future, she’ll feel like she’s drowning in a sea of complaints. The Suggestion for the Future especially appeals to the concrete, goal-oriented side of a man that says, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
Devising a clear Suggestion for the Future is a hard skill especially for women to acquire because it’s much easier for us to say what our partners are doing wrong than it is to formulate a clear, concise statement of the behavior we would prefer from our mates.
Put the Steps Together
When all of these steps are put together, the way you present your problem to your partner will play something like the following scenario.
“Honey, do you have some time to talk with me?” (You are told yes.)
“I know how hard you’ve been trying to work with me on resolving our conflicts, and I appreciate your efforts.”
“I’m sure you didn’t realize that I would be upset, but . . .”
Presentation of Your Issue: The X, Y Formula
“When x is done to me [avoid the word you], I feel y.”
Or, you may reverse the order and state the feeling first and the behavioral description second.
“I feel x when y is said (or done) to me.” (Avoid the word you.)
Add the Suggestion for the Future
“But in the future, I would feel so happy if you would do or say x.”
Planning your words may sound contrived to you. It is. And I want you to engage in and practice this cumbersome process because it guards against the tendency to blurt out words before considering their effect. We don’t want to turn your partner off before discussions have begun.
I have given you a brief overview. Your heart is in the right place. Since you really want to learn how to communicate your thoughts and feelings in a way that is beneficial to you and to her, my Kiss book is just what the doctor ordered. And, as a side benefit, when you learn how to handle your conflicts like a pro, you will stop bottling up feelings, which will prevent future panic attacks.
I believe in you. Let me know how you make out!