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bread & butter Vs death: the neuroscience of Arguing

#1. You [with soft tone]: ‘Sorry I’m late for the movie, I thought you said it started at 7 not 6. And the traffic was terrible.’

Me: ‘ I feel pretty annoyed you’re so late, but I guess we can see the 8pm session, or just go home? Maybe we need to check in re the exact movie time again on the actual day, so this doesn’t happen again?’

You: ‘I’m so sorry darlin, I felt really bad when I realised I was letting you down. Let’s see the 8pm, and I’ll buy the popcorn. Hug me for a moment first though.’

This is a ‘bread & butter’ misunderstanding and reaction (i.e. just an everyday disagreement). The exchange is clear: You made a genuine mistake, and have owned it, apologised, and given the injured party the power to decide what happens next. Both of you decided to reassure the other that they were still important and cared about, despite the mix-up. Plus long hugs are calming.

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#2. You [in brusque tone]: ‘Sorry I’m late for the movie, I thought you said it started at 7 not 6. And the traffic was terrible.’

Me: ‘This is the 4th time you’ve been late in a week. FFS, you always do this! I thought you were either dead in a car accident, or just being the worst partner ever.’

You: ‘God, calm down, you’re such an uptight drama queen. It’s only a film!”

Me: ‘I’m fuming. I don’t even want to see a film now; in fact, I don’t even wannna really see you anymore this evening!’

You: ‘Yeah, I’m not in the mood for crap like this either now! I’ll just text you in a couple of days; I don’t need this hassle.’

This has become a ‘fight/flight/freeze’ situation, not because the circumstances really warrant it, but because both parties have had their attachment systems triggered. That means that their deepest programmed survival instincts of avoiding Negativity (specifically abandonment and rejection) are surging through their bodies, in the form of adrenaline and cortisol. It’s an Argument. And biologically, it feels like a fight to the death.

The latest neuroscience research on how our bodies behave when we’re in love or fighting is fascinating; it’s easy to get obsessed researching this topic. There are practical articles, like this one for example: Neuroscience tips to remain calm in an argument HERE (Focus on the other person/don’t yell/keep body posture neutral/Breathe deep/exit the argument earlier rather than later).

Elsewhere there are clear principles to follow for resolving conflict:

  1. Show basic concern for the other’s well being
  2. Maintain focus on the specific problem at hand
  3. Refrain from generalizing the conflict
  4. Be willing to engage
  5. Effectively communicate feelings and needs

But NONE of this helped me when I was disagreeing with H last week HERE! I saw it unravelling before my eyes (we were Face-timing), and could feel my body getting stressed and elevated, but it just happened so fast… Plus, I could see it was happening to both of us… We were losing our playful, sweet, creative Snail & Crab connection…

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Upcycled postcard by H 🙂

In adult relationships and arguments, as soon as one or other of you ‘flips your lid’, you’ve lost access to the pre-frontal cortex of your brain, which controls the limbic system. This means you are literally flooded with adrenaline (causing the fight/flight/freeze sensation I mentioned before), while all capacity for compassion, mindfulness, and kindness to Self & Other flies out the window.

All we can do is practise our awareness (easier written than done when discussing chores vs social life with a teenager who goes from 2/10 reactions to 10/10 in a microsecond for example). But ask yourself how your parents fought, and how you fought with each of them?

For most of us, it’s a blend of voice raising, sulking, removal of privileges, or delayed discussions once everything’s calmed down. Other people were yelled at, insulted, shoved or even hit. Some mothers withdrew, while others wept. Some parents drank, threw furniture, or seethed in silent white fury; others were basically absent, either emotionally or literally. The full spectrum happens, and it all has a profound effect on how we disagree & argue.

It’s worth remembering too that we have an inbuilt survival bias toward the negative: typically it takes 5-10 positive interactions to overcome 1 negative one. So every fight with your caregiver (when young), or beloved (when older), can create a deeply unsettling state of arousal (and I don’t mean the good, sexy kind).

I felt ‘H’ and I tiptoeing back towards our ‘togetherness’ slowly HERE. We texted, emailed, and talked on the phone. A long, quiet hug would have been AWESOME. Nothing like it for calming the nervous system [5 more sleeps 5 more sleeps till we get one, hurray!].

Long-distance dating can be tough, but I’d rather share my bread & butter with H than anyone else, and we simply have to practise all the other less fun stuff too.

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Thanks H x

 

How you respond to the issue… is the issue. Frankie Perez

 

 

This time a week ago I was feeling like shit, thanks

And so was ‘H’. I’m sure you’ve read all about our argument in Episode 9 HERE, or the making up relief in the Update HERE.

I just want to say a quick thank you to the variety of readers who commented, and offered advice or support. It truly helped me feel better. I’m sleeping more soundly because of you fellow bloggers in particular:

Piglet in Portugal, who consoled me that she’d also had a ‘dummy spit’, but that mine was worse.

DFMGhost, who told me to talk it out, and was flagging herself the same advice for the future too.

gigglingfattie, who also advocated talking, with best wishes that it sort out.

L. Rorschach over at BackInStilettosAgain reassured me that she feels exactly the same when she argues with a significant lover!

Widdershins  (who met her wife online 13 years ago when they were living in Canada and Australia) told me to only give what I’m prepared to lose…

And finally, Debbie over at ForgivingConnects reminded me to honour myself first, and speak my truth.

It all helped. My real life friends helped of course. Having a good 5Rhythms dance helped. An early night with a hot water bottle helped. And my sweet, soft, brave Heart Voice helped me most of all.

Thank you everyone xxx

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Update on Episode 9: the sign still applies (phew)

[EPISODE 9 HERE. Worth reading first].

Arguments suck! We all know that. Yet still they explode from seemingly nowhere. One minute everything is cute, cosy, safe and understanding; the next, it feels like the floor has dropped out of your world, and either one or both of you is willing to fight, flight or freeze your way to a land of Disconnection and possibly Sulks.

It happens so fast, and furiously. Even for snails.

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Snails? What the hell do I mean? Well, my Love H is a Snail: slow, steady, sensitive to loud sounds and being startled, quick to retract into the shell, cautious to emerge.

I’m more like a Crab: fast, sideways, big claw, unpredictable, fond of dark caves, difficult to prise out. Hard shell, sweet-bellied soft.

But no matter your style, no matter your inner totem creature, you gotta T-A-L-K. Whether it’s immediately, or after 24 hours, someone’s gotta make the first move…

*sound of crickets for a day and a night*

Then H texted. But I’d already written a heartfelt email, I just hadn’t sent it. So technically, we’d both kinda made a similar move…

And very quickly, it felt resolved. Because I think H is awesome. H thinks I’m awesome.

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Hand-drawn sign by H for one of our Sunday skype dates

It’s been a technicolour 6-month online dating ride, plus an extra 11 weeks of emailing before our first date, so now perhaps we’re birthing the next phase? As my smart friend/relationship counsellor A says: ‘Once the honeymoon period of 3-6 months is over, the real conflicts & commitments must begin.’

So Be It. First one done/more to come. Habits to understand (Snails are SO slow to move forward yet can back up at the speed of light it seems); skills to learn and practice (Crabs scuttle here and there on secret missions yes indeed, but can be very calm and present when needed).

I’m typing this on my verandah in an incredible sunset. H arrives here in a week, for a week. We’re ready; it’s been 5 weeks apart. Relationships are as fundamentally precious and unique as every sunset, and I’m willing to bring all my colours to ours.

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#nofilter

 

Episode 9 Online dating: How I had a tantrum, but found a kitten

This starts with scones for morning tea. An innocent trigger, exploding into a phone fight across 1600kms, as two feisty, stubborn women clash values.

“You want space to process? Have the entire state of Victoria then! I am NOT going to text first” rants my inner Grumpy Avoidant dwarf in silence.

Arms folded. Hackles up. Snarling. Feel sick though, down in the pit of my stomach. I know this isn’t right or healthy.

Ring my dear friend R; launch myself into the story of the fight, feeling myself getting crosser, yet sadder.

‘Why don’t you have a tantrum about this, and see what lies beneath?’ she says. ‘You know, dance round the living room, thrash a pillow, see what you find?’

OK, I can do that. And I know the perfect song: Fatboy Slim ‘What the Fuck’ 

So I’m 50, and flailing arms, legs, head, like a toddler. I’m shaking out my brain, belly, butt, and bile. I fall to my knees, and pummel the couch. I’m spoilt, selfish, silly, and acting out all of it. What the hell. Nothing to lose; I feel terrible anyway.

The 5 minutes passes. I’m panting, sweating, released. What lies beneath indeed?

I write:

“I feel angry with you for being so sensitive. I feel angry with myself for being so insensitive, and hurting you.

I’m angry that we’re not communicating, which feels to me like I’m being punished.

This morning, driving in the rain, I wondered, for the first time ever, if this relationship was too hard/too distant/not worth it.

I hated that.

I wondered if you were thinking the same thing. If you were going to dump me.

I was terrified. And I hated that.

But my Avoidant was up & cheering, marching off into the next new sunset with anyone easier/lighter/closer. 

I hated that (although it did feel horribly comforting). And I especially fucken hated that.So now I’m Here.

Feeling sad. Abandoned. Rejected for making a stupid mistake.

Love & Connection being withheld.

I hate that.

Yet I’m totally doing it too.

Wail & howl. Hang my head in shame & sorrow. Feel dumb. Careless. Sad.

I’m tired. Slept so shit.

Feel soft soft vulnerable scared… 

“I don’t want to lose this love” whispers my heart.

“I don’t want to fuck this up. I’m so dumb, insensitive, clumsy, defensive.”

I’m angry neither of us has better models & skills to navigate these trying times more easily.

I’m scared of losing our fragile, precious, incredible connection.

I’m wondering what to do to make it all better? The over-anxious child, wanting to ‘fix things’- to get it ‘right’.

To not fail.

To not cause pain to the one I love, even if they’ve also lashed out and hurt me.

To understand. To understand us both.

To be kind. To be kind to us both.

To Love. To Love us both.

To soften and open and lean into Love.

To say ‘I’m sorry. I fucked up. I hurt you. I didn’t mean to. I see your pain. Forgive me.’

To soften. To open.

To give a defeated shrug of my shoulders, and ask ‘Can we just let it go?’

That’s what I found inside me, curled up scared like a near-drowned kitten, shivering and cold, looking for a safe place that feels like Home.”

 

It’s 2 days before our 6 month ‘anniversary’ of first meeting HERE. Are we going to make it any further?

 

:(

I’ve been devastated watching the Grenfell Tower tragedy unfold, not least because my cousin lives not far from there, and I know the marginalised communities this is traumatising. And still no official body count, hidden by the mainstream media owners (who are probably the Tower landlords)! The power of this poem just summed up all of how I feel, so I’m reblogging it. Read it twice. It’s all there. And watch this interview by singer Lily Allen: she’s just speaking the truth:
https://youtu.be/N1TbRejDv80

This is why we need social media, and creative responses to unspeakable tragedies; then we need to damn well riot!

lois e. linkens

as your flame-grilled steak sizzles just metres from your plate, so the fiery tongues of Grenfell feed upon the lives of those who deserved better.

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Driving with teenage son #4

Me: I need something humorous about driving with you for my Blog… Ooh, look at that ‘grey nomad’ old lady over there with her massive brand new shiny RV … mmm, it’s even got a satellite dish… she must be driving round Australia… that’ll be me one day y’know, spending all your inheritance…

Him: Well, that’s certainly not funny.

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Smashed eggshells drowning

We are on flood watch again. Last time this happened, due to Cyclone Debbie, we ended up with thigh-high water through my son’s garden-level bedroom: photos and story are all HERE. Nearby towns were devastated, and are literally only just recovering after 11 metres of brown filthy water rushed through the entire CBD.

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I hardly slept last night. I lay wake from 1.30 till at least 4am, tuning in to every increase or blessed pause in the rain’s fall. I kept picturing my garden 2 months ago, over and over, drowned by floodwater. I’d moved my car at midnight back then, just in time before the water went over the bottom of the doors; last night I kept worrying if I should get up to check it.

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My neighbours didn’t move their van in time. Water got to the bottom of the steering wheel

Early this morning friends texted or called to see if I needed a hand, and I decided to keep ’17’ home from school. I’ve noticed I’m chewing on my tongue or my inner lips, and feel so on edge (plus exhausted).

I’m kind of  hyper-vigilant, yet also numb.

Expecting the worst.

Feeling out of control.

Scared. Angry. Wanting to flee.

And I thought: ‘Wow, this is like a domestic violence nightmare- walking on those damn clichéd egg shells, waiting for the emotional explosion. Or like living in a ghetto, where you never know who’s going to be shot next. It’s like living in Syria, waiting to be bombed. It’s like being a refugee, in camp or detention centre.’

Except it’s fucking Not.

I’m still surrounded by intact walls & roof; electricity; internet; food and fresh water. Emergency services and Council trucks. Hourly updates on local radio with friendly voices and familiar tunes.

Support.

Freedom.

Love.

Yes, I’m feeling pretty anxious, and definitely a bit re-triggered by memories of the last flood. But nothing, NOTHING, like a woman being beaten by her partner in her own home, or having her children shot at, bombed, or drowned in rough seas fleeing political persecution.

I hang my head at my simple lack of resilience, and wonder if I’d ever be tough enough to survive a genuine traumatic situation?

I pray I never find out.

bone&silver

 

Episode 8: Best thirty bucks I ever spent

Last night I went out for dinner with 9 creative and vibrant women aged 40-50. There was much talk of art, young children, partners, teenagers, social media, Feminism, sex, hair colour, food, fitness etc; I hope you can picture it.

I arrived late, and ended up sitting at one head of the table, between two women I didn’t know, P & S. Slowly our conversations delved deeper, like cats burrowing under the quilt in winter. Do you reveal yourself easily, like P, red-stained teeth, bolstered by her 3rd glass of wine? Or with deliberate care like a tightrope walker, which S actually used to be in her 20s? I’m probably a mix of the two (always without the wine though), and as we chatted about kids and dads, relationships and dating, I said something about ‘…my current tomboy girlfriend in Melbourne’.

I noticed the split second of surprise and/or understanding flash across their faces, then we continued talking. P admitted she was currently dating 2 men at once. ‘Go girl!’ I said. S agreed; no disapproval or shaming here thanks. S told a sweet story about her husband, then juiced it up with tales of her various love affairs with women and men in Europe when younger.

I was struck by the ease with which we traversed so many different behaviours and presentations: travel/parenting/work/sex & romance/committed loving… there was both a fluidity and flow that delighted me. I know some love the stability of long-term marriages, the comfort of religious faith, the predictability of the same career path, or clear identity labels. Others need to explore and weave changes; surely we have evolved successfully by valuing both these states in our cavemen cavewomen cavepersons’ tribes?

Online dating has brought me so much adventure and thereby self-knowledge. I don’t care if you’re 20 or 75: there’s someone out there who wants to meet you. As I wrote HERE in Episode 1 (including my fabulous tips), I’m a Queen of it, and proudly so.

It must therefore be time for my romance update hey? Well, we just passed the official ‘8 months’ marker since that inaugural online ‘Hi’ during my 3-month/$30 trial subscription.

Softly looming is the actual, physical, 3D-satisfying reality-based ‘6 months’ flag.

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And it’s a rainbow flag, layered with glitter, sequins, type-written words and handmade comics. Yes, it’s Pride month in June, and I want to honour that old saying ‘I’m not a lesbian, but my girlfriend is’.

Some of us humans like labels, and some of us don’t. Sometimes we need them, and sometimes we don’t. I want to decide how I define myself, and when; what you think of me is none of my business. And now that I’m passing through the tumultuous year of turning 50 (my coming birthday is late July- don’t worry, I’ll remind you- there’ll be plenty of opportunities for gift giving), I’m relishing my absolute, hard-earned freedom to just Be Myself.

And 1600kms away, H loves that. x

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Hand drawn in Melbs for one of our ‘Sunday Dress-Up Skype dates’

 

 

The Weyward Sisters: Back to Black/ Collaborative Amy Winehouse Tribute

10 quick brilliant poems as a tribute to singer Amy Winehouse. So good. What a loss (she died on my birthday 2011)

Sudden Denouement Literary Collective

Rana Kelly/2nd star to the Left, straight on ’til morning

Oh, Amy

Whenever I go walking

In my stilettos,

I hear you talking.

Dream me up a way

Of swishing my hips

And pursing my lips

And singing your riffs

So that I find beauty

Like you.

lois e. linkens

she puts her black dress on
in the dark,
anxious nails red and messy
in their early-morning artistry.
he left the candle burning
in the winter window –
vanilla and cinnamon
on a Sunday evening,
tears and vodka
on a Monday morning.
last week’s relief
breathes
into tonight’s regrets,
but the shadowy smear
on the glass
is all that is left of him.

Aakriti Kuntal/Writings of Aakriti Kuntal

Rummaging through

black air,

nauseous red nails bearing oily seas

Suffocating

existence with conversations,

conversations

with glittering nail cutters,

cracked moons

laughing hysterically in them

Conversations

of fallen boyfriends, of fallen love

Fallen being

the new being

Aurora…

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