Depending on how long you have been perceiving that they are stuck, you may offer your help with more or less generosity of heart. The longer you have been experiencing the pain of their stuck place, the less generosity of heart you will likely have. The more your help really bears witness to your own pain.
Wherever you are on the spectrum from a true desire to help to an indirect expression of your own pain, you must bring a few things into awareness. Your partner’s inner world is a vulnerable, private place so trying to enter it can easily be seen as trespassing on sacred ground. This is tricky plus do not forget that offering your perspective on your partner’s inner world needs their explicit permission. After all, the motivations behind your thoughts on their inner world may introduce difficulties to the dynamic.
Start with permission to enter sacred ground. Your partner’s inner workings— history, habits, conditioning, family of origin—are an infinitely complex realm. Regardless of how much time you have spent together, you haven’t been there for the formation of most of it. Remembering this, your job is to stand at the gates of this sacred ground in a humble and soft way. You have no right to enter uninvited, and if you do you will likely trigger hurt. Stayimg humble and entering by explicit invitation only exemplifies a healthy boundary.
Even when your partner offers an explicit invitation for you to share in their inner world, it’s still dicey. Your partner may be giving up their own self-respect or self-empowerment and thus acting in collusion with you. This creates a one-up / one-down relationship. If you are the one offering interpretations, analyses, and “insights,” you are in the one-up role. In this role, you will likely come to resent your partner and have thoughts that you wish they would grow up, be responsible, transform, and do their personal work.
The second part, your motivation, can be tough to discern in the moment. Motivation is just another way of saying universal need. What follows are the most common motivations behind offering your perspective on your partner’s inner world .
- Safety: If you keep yourself in the one-up position, you create a perceived sense of control and thus imagine your need for safety will be met. This is likely safety with regard to emotional pain or perceived attacks or abandonment.
- Self-acceptance: If you find fault with your partner, then it’s easier to stand in the idea that you are not the one at fault. Blaming others is a way to protect a sense of self-acceptance although it’s costly and ineffective). Being “the one who knows” is also a common way to maintain a sense of self-acceptance.
- Relief: You are in pain and want more of your needs met. You hope that if you can change your partner, you will have relief from pain.
- Contribution: You see your partner in pain and genuinely think you have something to offer that would help alleviate their pain.
Knowing what your motivation is in the moment requires a willingness to stop and reflect before speaking. During that reflection, take the time to name your thoughts, feelings, sensations, impulses, and needs. From this compassionate witnessing of yourself, you can act authentically and directly from the need alive for you. You can consciously decide how to go about meeting that need.
Through discernment, you may decide that you really do want to contribute to the well-being of your partner. If this contribution does not rise out of your own pain and anxiety, then you can approach the gates of your partner’s inner world humbly and softly. In a soft and neutral tone, you might say something like: “I have a guess about something that might be going on for you. I don’t know if it will be a fit. Would you like to hear it, or would you just like some space to be heard?” Offering a second option is a way to support your partner’s true choice, which might be to say no to your input.
In a mutually evolving relationship, offering your analysis, interpretations, and insights about your partner’s inner world is likely a rare event. Instead, you spend time listening to your partner and making it safe for them to share by offering empathy and curiosity. Consistently meeting needs for safety, empathy, and acceptance in your relationship creates a secure base for you and your partner to reflect individually and honestly. From this place you can courageously embrace transformation.
PRACTICE: If giving input into your partner’s inner world or asking for it is your habit, practice by just naming it when it happens. A tactile way to do this is to put a handful of beads in one pocket. Each time you catch yourself doing the behavior, transfer a bead from one pocket to the other.
Practice for a week and see under what conditions the behavior increases or decreases. At the end of the day, as you remove the objects from your pocket, guess the needs that were up for you each time you engaged in the behavior