I have been taking Yin Yoga classes which focus on holding the poses for a long time so you learn to surrender into the stretch. The teacher was talking about how usually when we start to feel the discomfort of a stretch, we meet that with struggle, trying to push against it. In struggling, our nervous system sends fear signals to our mind and our body tenses against the stretch. In Yin Yoga, we learn to relax into the stretch, to not effort, to teach our body and nervous system to calm down so that we can stretch more deeply.
This made me think of the couple’s therapy work that I do and how people meet discomfort in relationships -whether it’s a difficult conversation, a relationship that is changing, finding out something about your partner or yourself that is painful. So often when challenged in a relationship we immediately tense and go into fear. And we try to push through it by having conversations when we are too emotional or trying to make a big decision without having time to think. An important part of couple’s therapy is helping people to learn how to calm themselves down enough to face a challenge. There are ways to direct the nervous system and our minds to slow down, rather than to react with fear. And from that place, we do a lot better job of addressing relationship conflicts or changes.
So the next time you feel challenged by a surprise or even a long-standing irritation in relationship, take time to notice - how are you tensing against this thing that is stretching you? Can you slow this down, not reacting immediately but waiting until you can take a deep breath and let your body unwind a bit? Rather than trying to solve this or turn it into an effort, is there a way you can first surrender to this experience of discomfort? Can you be aware of it without fighting it, just for a few minutes? Can you find your own solid ground, your own capacity to tolerate being stretched, before approaching your partner? Just start by taking a deep breath. You may be surprised how different things look when you ease off of the mental struggle against it.