Recently in a therapy session I hit on an idea that seemed really helpful. It is simple, as most helpful ideas are. Here it is: When your partner is upset, ask yourself, “Is this a big feeling or a little feeling that my partner is having?”
People are typically together because they love each other. However, irritations and fears arise, and comments can be made that are real, but not central to the core of the relationship.
Example: You walk in the door late from running errands and your spouse or partner yells at you: “You are always late. You are so thoughtless!”
At this point, ask yourself, “Is this a big feeling or a little one?” It may be big in the sense that your partner really means it in that moment. But it does NOT mean that the bigger feeling–“I love you”–has gone away.
We have lots of feelings at once. We love someone. We are irritated at them. We are worried about being late to an event, or that our efforts at making a good dinner will be thwarted by it getting cold.
Remembering that your partner loves you, and ultimately thinks you are a good person, is important when they are thoroughly irritated at you. It will help you to be calm and respond in a way that improves your situation rather than hurts it.
Remembering your partner’s “big” feelings is a skill that can help you a lot.
P.S. Of course, the opposite can be true…it is possible to underestimate the importance of a feeling when you shouldn’t. Underneath, “You’re always late!” can be the feeling, “I want you to respect my efforts here at the house more.” All feelings are important and should be attended to. It’s just that when attending to the negative ones, remembering the bigger, more positive ones can help.