Nothing is more attractive to a person aching to be vulnerable than a partner asking for trust. Here’s why your peacekeeper needs you to get naked.
This past week, I got caught in the crosshairs of knee-jerk reactions dating back to childhood. We have all been there, when we are hit so hard and intimately in a place so uncomfortable, we feel as if our reaction can’t be controlled. When we are forced to revisit the memories that tell us what’s really at stake in our lives: humility, guilt, selfishness, shame.
I was a little girl taught to act as a pleasing peacekeeper for her daddy. For many women, peacekeeping lessons begin early. It’s vital that men understand these origins of vulnerability so they can help their partners move past it. Being a woman is a source of pride, yes, but getting to a comfortable balance of self-love and confidence without feeling the urge to defend our gender remains a struggle.
I still carry those peacekeeping lessons with me, still fall back on the tender fear they caused. Never a positive thing, my insecurities have nearly always led to a destruction of entire relationships.
In the first few years of my current relationship, I did my best to breathe life into that fear, even using it as a near-instinctual reaction to conflict. It had been so hammered into me and while I hated it, it was well-worn and familiar. When my SO and I argued, I wanted peace to restore immediately, terror at the possibility of loss would burble its way up my throat, sometimes I would even have a massive panic attack as a reward for coming unglued. I wrapped my arguments and points of views carefully in soft kid gloves then laid them at the feet of my mate. Poor guy. I thought I had to behave, that by some natural, plaguing force I had done something wrong. That he expected only angelic behavior from me. And this spurred me to furiously backpedal when I did dig up the courage to express myself on those sporadic occasions I’d actually been honest. (An unhealthy choice…backpedaling). So when I left arguments, although I’d felt initial relief that the friction had abated, over time, I still found myself wanting a truer resolution as waves of misunderstanding hit one after the other. Predictably, these emotions gave way to resentment…a resentment I had created.
The funny thing…I thought this was the way women related to men for the longest time. Most of my adult life, in fact. Women acquiesced. We soothed. We offered so much of ourselves for the smoothing of the wrinkles of conflict. I had seen my mother do it, girlfriends perform the ritual with their male partners, even women I passed in the grocery store put those ruffled feathers back into place as quickly as they could. It seemed men weren’t allowed to have any emotion and women were supposed to have all of the emotion.
And so it became ingrained…it is my job to ease the tensions. Then because I’d chosen this mindset I easily moved into an uglier, darker place: you don’t have the right to feelings.
Preventing strife and heated dialogue isn’t your job and it isn’t your partner’s. Would it surprise you to realize, that role belongs to no one?
Because you share it. You both must wrangle conversations so they stay on sensible ground, so they don’t devolve into ultimatums, or irreparably damage your relationship. With two of you at the helm, you are less likely to break the rules of arguing and say things you will regret, things that echo in the night. I have been known to mutter, “Oh, I am really struggling to not say something nasty. Please don’t push me there.” You help each other. In that moment, be it you, or your partner attempting to keep control, you are asking for reinforcement. Be a supportive partner and give the help.
The more I downplayed what I needed due to my preoccupation with peacekeeping , the more I felt as if I were perpetrating a wrong, as if I had betrayed not only my mate, but myself. As the daughter of a dominant and scary man, conflict raises my hair. It probably always will, but instead of standing straight up while I mentally muscle through fight or flight, my hair may now rise a millimeter, or two and then lie back down. Several years ago, I would have done anything to avoid conflict. But after enough dishonest protesting that everything was fine, my gut began to scream you have to get this out! Hiding your true opinions and masking your needs isn’t working!
I had to confront my partner and tell him of my terrible practice and let me just say, I empathized with him in that moment because he reacted as if he had been duped. And in a way, he had. While I was busy unloading, he’d become naturally surprised and hurt that I hadn’t felt safe enough, or trusted him enough to reveal my full Monty of emotions. It sounds weird to say, I allowed him to have feelings. But I did. I didn’t judge and he did his best to encourage me to feel safe and not chastised. In an environment without punishment (a guaranteed way to shut down your peacekeeper) everything came out. Healing began.
If you are stuck on how to begin the conversation, you might inquire gently, “What are you trying to protect yourself from?” “How do you think I’ll respond if I get angry?” You can even ask her if she’s afraid of anger. I was. It felt silly to admit that at first.
When we give fear a voice, something magical occurs. It gets smaller. It sounds minimal and conquerable in nature. We begin to imagine we can overcome. This starts the road to permanent recovery and change.
This is living as a survivor of verbal and physical abuse. This is icy fear sensed in the spine of a slight eleven year-old who learns to tiptoe around rage. And it has everything to do with your partner now, if she hasn’t done the work to heal well enough to participate in a healthy relationship. Which means, it has everything to do with you.
Since apologizing and accepting my responsibility for lying about my emotions, our relationship is now exponentially better. Remember, your partner, who is driven and wrestling with intense urges to flee and destroy in order to protect themselves is not trying to hurt you. Rather, they are trying to avoid getting hurt. A hurt that was so bad, and so memorable, it caused a physical change in their brain.
Now my SO and I are partners in the truest sense. We are defenders and celebrators of each other, and I feel validated and accepted. It’s awesome, and not in the way of 80’s slang. It inspires awe in both of us. I can tell him how I feel, and no matter the depth of the issue, I know I am safe sharing.
If your SO isn’t at ease sharing with you due to past relationship experiences, childhood abuse, or trauma, you can work on it together. The woman she was destined to be is entombed underneath everything she has gone through, and everything that has transpired in her life to make her feel unsafe. This unseen woman is beautiful in her wild wonder, with her unique energy. As we are all resplendent without walls to hide us.
When this fresh woman appears, throwing off the dirty veil of pain, panic and confusion, you will recognize a growing strength within yourself, too. Step back and watch as you two ascend a level, as you cherish a new closeness and vulnerability.
After all, what is more attractive to a person who aches to be vulnerable than a partner asking for trust? A partner going first to demonstrate naked emotion is not just okay, it’s the key to enjoying the deepest, most meaningful relationship possible.
Bare yourselves. Then get ready to lose yourselves in complete abandon.
Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.