Build an Upward Spiral Instead
Many of us are familiar with the metaphorical image of the "downward spiral" - of things getting worse, rapidly, personally or relationally, in a continual and often accelerating pattern. Combine this with the fact that our partners, our families, our closest friends, know how to "push our buttons" and work us into a negative state in the quickest time available, and we can find our intimate relationships to be the home of our most frequently repeated downward spirals.
It doesn't have to be this way. The same intimate knowledge that lets us push someone's buttons can let us build them up in the same rapid amount of time. Can you give your partner the giggles (or at least make them crack a smile) in the same time it would take you to turn their mood sour?
(Admittedly, for some very serious partners, I might only achieve a little bit of a smile, not a full on GRIN or a laugh - people's temperaments vary - but likewise, folks would find it hard to get me into truly a sour mood just by saying something offhand, not everyone is as easily pushed either up or down.)
Creating the upward spiral can be an important tool to reinforce intimacy in a relationship. People feel more accepted and willing to be vulnerable with people with whom they have positive underlying experiences. Taking neutral moments and making them playful and fun can build connection. It can do so just as much as hearing someone in moments of difficulty does, and prepare someone to see us as a safe person to share with. Have quiet downtime too, but if we feel a downward spiral coming on, taking a moment to pause and regulate together and then doing something that commonly pushes them on an upward rather than downward spiral - for some people that's compliments, for others it's a joke unrelated to what's going on or an inside joke of your relationship, for still others it's something a little physical but positive - a specific kind of hug or kiss from around behind you or similar. These are very personal - just like someone's negative "buttons" are.
Let's talk about some examples of that regulation together moment. For some people it looks like asking if our partner needs a moment to hear their complaints heard and just actively listening and validating - no advice, defensiveness, or reply of substance besides that they are heard or that something sounds difficult/stressful/etc. Just mirroring their language back to them and making them feel validated and accepted. You can address any issues that come up at a later point when they're less disregulated. For others it could be a physical moment of regulation. Something explicit like doing a breathing exercise to get calm together; I like sitting or laying back to back and trying to match each others' breathing, either simply or more elaborately like to a count of in five, hold five, out seven. It could be simpler like just a long hug and feeling someone's heart beating, too. The idea is finding something that balances both of you out. If it's just one of you getting into an emotional spiral or funk, the other one recognizing and trying to help can be really handy for balancing that.
The idea of not just hitting balance but trying to get things rolling upward can be something you base on love languages or something you base on additional times in your life that you felt particularly loved and make sure that you let your partners know what you need (and they you). The personalization is a great feature of this.
The podcast series on Abuse in Polyamory episodes 1-3 is live now. Check out the Ready for Polyamory Podcast on your favorite podcast platform, or on our host readyforpolyamory.fireside.fm.
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