>It’s not about the toothpaste…

butterfly strokeWhenever I stretch above my head, my shoulders instantly move down and let the big muscles in my back propel my arms upward; my fingers instinctively form two cups and swoosh down, pushing the air past me. It’s muscle memory – it’s old; it comes from years of competitively swimming butterfly (that’s right, y’heard me…). Even though I haven’t swum seriously for 20 years, my body still knows exactly what to do when tasked with anything that even remotely resembles that stroke. I don’t even need to be in the water.

It’s like that when our emotional reactions to things don’t make sense on the surface. When you go nuclear about the toothpaste sitting uncapped… again…, it’s probably about something else – and maybe it’s something old. Like you don’t feel heard by your partner; but rather than being a grown-up about it, and speaking to them rationally, you come around the corner, clutching the tube in a death grip and frothing at the mouth. Because something in your “emotional muscle” sees that neglect as a threat, and responds as you would when you first felt neglected (or rejected or abandoned) – probably as a kid. You were thrown in the water; you had to teach yourself to swim, or you would drown.

So you tantrum or you shut down and refuse to communicate, like a kid – because that’s what you learned to do back then, you learned to survive. Back then, it was important that your body know how to protect itself; but now, it moves defensively whether it’s necessary or not.

Your partner probably doesn’t see that hurt little kid inside you, because they’re distracted by their own baggage. So they react with their own muscle memory, which interprets someone yelling at them as a threat; the message in their head is ‘Danger! We’re being attacked!’ so their body reacts defensively to that message, and the Clash of the Titans is on!

In truth, your behavior makes complete sense, but gets in the way of the closeness you crave with your partner. IN EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy,) we try to move toward healing those old, old wounds that probably predate your partner, but feel fresh every time you get into a conflict.

It makes sense that your body wants to swim, but you’re not even in the water anymore. You’re just thrashing around and getting nowhere.


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2 responses to “>It’s not about the toothpaste…”

  1. Need fixing

    Maggie, thank you for your usual and valuable insight. Was just thinking – what if it is all about the toothpaste? Some spouses constantly twist and bend the toothpaste tube until it becomes problematic.

    Why is it so difficult for some spouses to break bad habits, and embrace positive ones? In other words, stop squeezing the tube in the middle and strive to squeeze from the bottom, last in first out to keep a smooth flow and avoid conflict.

    1. maggie

      Good question, ‘Need Fixing’, and I like how you shift the meaning of the toothpaste tube!
      To be clear, what I was trying to say was that it’s not about the toothpaste tube at all. It’s about how sometimes it’s hard to hear your partner’s pain because you’re so focused on, well, the toothpaste – or your reaction to the toothpaste… What would it be like to put the frustration aside and be curious with your partner about why they aren’t embracing the positive?

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