There is a point in every relationship when you start to notice that you just aren't as nice to each other as you used to be. In fact, you might start to unleash a meanness you wouldn't have had in the beginning when you were on your best behavior. It may even feel good to let it out a little. Or your partner gets triggered and reacts in an unhealthy way that they wouldn't have previously.
In the beginning, you could do no wrong and you were delighted by every little eccentricity your partner had. Well, maybe it wasn't always that magical, but things were so great in the beginning, you prioritized being together over sleep, you wanted to spend all your time together, you were more affectionate, and things didn't really bother you about the other person like they do now. So, the honeymoon is over.
The struggle is real. You may be asking yourself why is this happening? Can't we keep things the way they were?
Nope. And moreover, that's a good thing.
Falling in Love...
You see, in the beginning of a relationship, your brain creates this crazy new relationship phenomenon that includes a cocktail of feel good chemicals such as dopamine and epinephrine. It creates huge hits of oxytocin, the love hormone, as well as adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones. However, it reduces serotonin and diminishes activity in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. I am not going to go into all the research here (you can look into it more yourself if you'd like), suffice it to say that it causes addictive-like and obsessive-like behaviors causing the reward center of the brain to be activated when you are with your partner and the increased cortisol and decreased serotonin cause you to be stressed and anxious when you are apart. The deactivating of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, the parts of your brain responsible for fear, judgement and executive functioning skills (at least where your partner is concerned), pretty much explains why your partner can do no wrong. You feel so happy, and you suspend criticism and doubt.
Then what happens?
Then gradually, the dopamine and epinephrine go back to normal. This can take a year to three or even four years. The relationship slowly shifts, things calm down, and you get to know each other better. Oxytocin is maintained at relatively high levels by showing affection, kissing, and intimate touch. You develop a deeper love and connection. You also get more comfortable, you start to show more of yourself, you start to let your guard down. At the same time, things start to irritate you more than before, and you become more easily triggered. Sometimes just the change in relationship from exciting and intense to comfortable can be scary or challenging. Then, all your trauma responses, buried emotions, and your past programming and conditioning start to bubble up in response to relationship triggers. These may seem like minor blips or small disputes in the beginning. It's easy to make-up or overlook all together. Although, if you try to ignore them or repress them, they will just keep coming back. Then there are the first big fights. These are more challenging and may take longer to deal with, and depending on how you fight, may be detrimental to your relationship and cause further triggers down the line.
So you have two people acting from their egos with all their traumas, programs, beliefs, perceptions and emotions at the wheel. Most days might be smooth sailing, easy breezy, and you are able to maintain love and connection. You are able to communicate well, hopefully, and express your needs and boundaries in a healthy way. If you are not able to express your needs and boundaries, this is a form of self-betrayal, and resentment will build until you are triggered and you get angry and/or explode.
If one person gets stressed or triggered but the other partner is able to hold space for that person to be stressed, feel what they need to feel, and just offer love and support, then both people feel love and maintain connection. But if you are both stressed and/or holding resentment or other repressed emotions and you trigger each other, you will let loose your victim selves on each other.
In the beginning, this may look like the silent treatment, a sharp word, or passive/aggressive behavior, but as you become more comfortable, you become more comfortable being mean. And the victim in you likes being mean. It feels good and it is hard to stop. You may realize you are not behaving well, but you just can't reason yourself out of it because it feels good. It feels indulgent to just let loose with all your feelings.
This is normal. When the ego, which has identified for so long with all your traumas, beliefs, and emotions as a separate self, is wounded or feels attacked, your victim self will enter the victim triangle at one of the three points: Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor.
Most of us spend time in all three points though we often have one we go to more often. Sometimes we are the rescuer, the people-pleaser, doing anything we can to avoid conflict, including denying our needs and boundaries or we perhaps parent our partner, offering advice or help that isn't needed.
Often, though, we are the victim and feel sorry for ourselves. We blame our partner for our hurt or tell ourselves stories about how they don't love us because if they did, they wouldn't do whatever it was they did. We tell ourselves stories about what they "should be doing". We manipulate them with pouting and complaints.
And then sometimes we are mean. We come in as the persecutor. We yell, we get angry, we bully, we criticize, we blame and complain without offering solutions. We indulge in hurting the other person because we are also hurting and don't know how else to make it go away.
Step away from the triangle...
You don't have to live like this. Recognizing it is the first step. You can have a loving and connected relationship without hurting each other. There will still be days where you will be triggered, but each time, it is an opportunity to recognize what is happening and choose to react differently. Choose to step away from the victim triangle or stay out of it all together.
How do you do this?
First, an ounce of prevention...
Check in with yourself. Are you feeling resentment towards your partner? If you are, then you have needs that are not being met or you need to identify healthy boundaries.
Express yourself! Let your partner know what your needs are. You cannot expect them to read your mind. Make a request, not a complaint. Most people would love clear guidance on how to make their partner happy without having to guess or play games. It doesn't need to be a serious talk, but it can be. It's always nice to express what you are grateful for or what you love about your partner too!
Connect with your partner. Make sure to spend time every day connecting. Talk about what you are grateful for, make plans (real or hypothetical), daydream, and cuddle. What is really powerful is to sit facing each other, touching hands, and either gazing into each other's eyes or touching foreheads and just breath together. Sit there for several minutes and feel each other's energy and love.
And most importantly, do your own trauma healing.
Next, response plan...
When you or your partner feel stressed, overwhelmed, or triggered try to recognize it.
Stop and just breathe for a moment.
Just observe what you are feeling without judgement or just allow your partner to feel what they need to feel without judgement.
Emotions are just energy and will pass through you if you allow them. Don't repress them or try to get rid of them, attach to them, or analyze them. Just let them move through you and give your partner love and space to let their emotions move through them.
If you catch yourself as the victim self or in victim triangle, try to recognize it. Even if you only recognize it afterwards, that's okay. You will start to recognize it sooner each time.
Stop and just breathe. Acknowledge what is happening and what you are feeling. Observe the stories you are telling yourself about what is happening and question whether or not they are true. Try telling a different story.
Take a step back and just observe the thoughts, feelings and the energy from the fight. Hold those feelings and send them love. Hold them as if you are holding your inner child and giving them all the comfort you ever needed. This will be difficult and your ego will fight you. Your ego likes pain and drama as the victim self. It's okay. Just hold strong. Give yourself love, compassion and comfort in this moment.
Try to verbalize to your partner what YOU are feeling and thinking calmly. Tell them what is going on inside you, without criticizing them, blaming them or calling them out. Tell them what you need or offer love and comfort to them. Hold each other while allowing each other to feel what you need to feel. Honor each other.
This all may sound easier said than done, but it gets easier with practice. It's important that you are not only honest with each other, but with yourself. Especially with yourself!
That also means accepting when staying with your partner is not for your highest good. I feel like couples are able to help each other heal more quickly together this way, but if your partner is not willing to do the work or is unable or unwilling to meet your needs, then you may need to prioritize yourself. Sometimes loving yourself means leaving someone else.
The honeymoon may be over, but the deeper relationship, love, connection, and growth makes life all the more beautiful.