“The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.” ~Deepak Chopra
I used to handle hurtful situations in relationships the same way. I’d get angry, shut down, get irritated, or just give my partner the silent treatment. This just led to more of what I didn’t want—separation, loneliness, and frustration.
So one day I made up my mind. I was going to change my approach and try something different. Cause we’ve all heard that famous saying from Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I was tired of not getting the level of intimacy in my relationships that I longed for. I was tired of feeling alone, frustrated, and separated from my partner, especially during the moments when I felt most hurt.
It all turned around in one single moment.
People think that change happens incrementally over time, but in my experience it’s often a defining moment in time where you make a new decision that changes everything.
Turning Separation into Intimacy
Let me take you back to this moment… I was upset, lying in bed next to my partner. Earlier that evening we had attended a birthday party, and my partner’s ex was there. Truth to be told, it made me jealous.
Looking back, I had no real reason to be jealous, but that’s the innate nature of jealousy—it’s never rational, it’s emotional. On instinct, I handled the situation as I always did when I felt jealous, inferior, or threatened. I shut down, got irritated and cold, and gave him the silent treatment.
“What’s the matter?” my boyfriend asked for probably the hundredth time that evening. (Have you ever been in a situation where your partner asks you the same question over and over again, and you repeat the same answer over and over again, secretly wishing that he’d read your mind?)
“It’s nothing,” I replied with a cold tone, and turned my back on him. That’s where I started to ask myself what was really going on. What I realized was this: At the core, I was not really angry, upset, or irritated. I was hurt and afraid. I felt exposed and rejected.
So I made a new choice there and then. I told him what the situation was really about: me not feeling pretty enough, not lovable enough, scared that he would choose someone else and leave me. And believe me, it was extremely scary to be vulnerable and expose myself in that way. I was way outside of my comfort zone, but it was truly worth it.
When I dared to communicate honestly from my heart, I received what I needed: love, connection, and confirmation. This shift that I made during the conflict changed everything and made us, as a couple, closer than ever before. It opened up the door to a new level of communication and intimacy.
Today, instead of pointing fingers at each other, we always try to take responsibility for our own thoughts, actions, and emotions. To stay honest and vulnerable, even when the stormy weather of negative emotions desperately tries to separate us and impose conflict.
Assuming you’re in a healthy relationship with someone who would never intentionally hurt you, you too can turn conflict into deeper intimacy and not only feel closer to your partner, but also better meet your needs. Here’s the process that I follow to turn hurtful situations into intimacy:
1. Stop and notice your emotions.
The first step is to become aware of your emotions. Just stop and catch yourself when you feel hurt, angry, disappointed, jealous, irritated, lonely, etc. Don’t beat yourself up for having those emotions. To become aware of them is the first vital step in the process.
For me, it was feelings of jealousy, irritation, anger, and separation that came over me.
2. Ask yourself what story you’re telling yourself about the situation.
What thoughts and beliefs do you have? It’s often very helpful to write down your story. The story in your head generates the emotions in your body, and it’s therefore crucial to become aware of your specific story.
In my case, the story was the following: “My boyfriend still has feelings for his ex. He’s mean and doesn’t respect me. I don’t want to be close to him. I want to punish him and make him suffer. Also, I knew it; I can’t trust people, they always leave and hurt me.”
3. Scrutinize your story.
The stories that we play in our minds are often influenced by past memories and experiences. And they tend to trigger strong emotions, which makes us blindfolded; we aren’t capable of acting or thinking rationally.
So, what we need to do is to scrutinize and question our story. Is this really true? Do I know for sure that this is the way it is? What are guesses, assumptions, and projections, and what are the actual facts?
In my case, I had very few facts. My boyfriend had not left me, nor had he said or done anything that implied that he had feelings for his ex. When I scrutinized my negative and destructive story, I realized that there was little evidence to support it.
4. Identify the root cause.
Ask yourself what it’s really about. What are you not willing to see or feel that needs to be seen or felt?
In my case, the root cause was me not feeling pretty enough, not lovable enough, and scared that he would choose someone else and leave me.
This can be a tough one, but give yourself some love and credit for being brave enough to acknowledge your shadow. It’s key to be kind toward yourself, because this stage requires vulnerability. Trust me, the reward of doing so is immense!
5. Reveal your true needs.
When you know the root cause, ask yourself: “What is the underlying need that is not being met right now?” Is it to be loved? To feel connection? To feel special and significant? To feel safe? To tell what your heart is experiencing?
Also, separate the needs that stem from fear and the needs that stem from love.
Instinctively, I would have answered that I needed space and some time alone to think and reflect. That may sound rational and sound, but that was only my ego trying to avoid facing the real issue and pain. That only increased the distance and separation between me and my partner. To help you navigate this and to find the real, underlying need, ask yourself, “Is this need based on love or fear?”
For me, the underlying needs were love and connection. I needed to feel my boyfriend’s love and presence. What I desperately longed for was a hug from him. A sincere hug that made me feel safe and seen. A loving hug that ultimately made me feel loved, significant. and special.
6. Dare to be vulnerable with the other person.
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” ~Brené Brown
If this is a person that you truly want in your life, that you like a lot or love, then you have to take the risk of being vulnerable. You have to open up and tell the other person what you really feel. But really take time and contemplate this one. Not everyone deserves your vulnerable communication.
I know that this can be very scary. The first time I did it, I stumbled on my words and I wasn’t able to look my partner in the eye. That’s how scared I was. But I did it anyway. And the reward was huge.
So take a deep breath and speak your truth, tell the other person how you’re experiencing the situation right now, and dare to express your real underlying need(s).
7. Take responsibility and own your thoughts and feelings.
See the situation as an opportunity to acknowledge what you need to work on in life. See it as an opportunity to get closer to yourself and other people. Most importantly, don’t expect others to fix you.
On my side, I realized that I have a hard time loving myself. But that was not my partner’s problem to fix. At the end of the day, I had to find a way to love myself, with or without his love.
Next time you are in a situation where you feel hurt, stop and reflect. Use the steps outlined above to move from separation to intimacy with the people you love.
And remember to be loving and kind to yourself while you do it. No one is perfect, and you show courage by even wanting to look at the situation from a new angle. So stay curious and compassionate toward yourself and others. You got this!