Why doing nothing is the best thing to do when your partner doesn’t listen and shuts you down

Doing nothing is the best thing to do when your partner doesn’t listen and shuts you down. Let me tell you a story.

Last night I noticed something in my twitter feed that gave rise to hope within me. I started sharing my observation with Steve and he shut me down before he even knew what point I was making.

“The audience of that magazine are right wing conservatives.” (They don’t care about you)
“I bet the author isn’t a supporter of women’s rights in the way you’re thinking.” (They really don’t care about you)
“Saying you’re glad they’re supportive as a means to an end is like saying yay to UKIP being pro home-education – not helpful” (how naive and delusional are you?)

I shut up.
I felt like all my enthusiasm had been squashed by him.
I felt despondent.

I could have got really angry with him for being an arsehole. Had a go at him. Let rip and vent the adrenalin so that I could at least “feel better”, when in fact it wouldn’t change what I was feeling at all, but could potentially create misery and distance and a feud just before bed.

I could have analysed my own reaction and tried to find what button it was that he pressed. Why do I feel the need to be heard? Where am *I* not listening to myself? What a rabbit hole that would have been. In the past that’s exactly what I would have done. I would have made my apologies and gone to bed to painfully feel my feelings mindfully, searching for what belief it was that was challenged and find it so I could deal with the issue and hopefully be less triggered next time. I would hide away, feeling alone and broken, focused on trying to deal with the heavy burden of my overreaction and oversensitiveness.

Thankfully neither of these possibilities really took hold. Instead I just felt despondent. And I didn’t go anywhere with it. He tried to apologise but there was no point in me accepting it or arguing back because mostly I was feeling my own mood and that was all I could manage in that moment. My course of action was, apparently, to do nothing.

I decided I should go to bed. As I brushed my teeth tears welled up. I felt he was right, that I didn’t know anything about the magazine or the author and their audience. I couldn’t argue that anything he said was wrong. I felt I saw through my optimism and couldn’t hold on to it anymore. What was the point of living if I didn’t have any optimism? What’s the point of living if it’s all shit?

I went to bed. And then I laid it all out in front of me: “I feel despondent because I feel despondent.” I repeated this simple observation. When I feel despondent I feel despondent. [click_to_tweet tweet=”My feelings have nothing to do with what he said, arsehole or not. ” quote=”My feelings have nothing to do with what he said, arsehole or not. “]Arsehole or not, truth or not; my feelings weren’t caused by him. I knew that to be true. They were already there, in the background, way way in the background, almost lying in wait. And when it was time they bubbled up. I didn’t consciously choose to feel despondent, but it washed over me and there it was. It wasn’t caused by what Steve said, it was a conclusion my brain came to. My perceptions of the situation came to the conclusion that despondency was the thinking to have in response to what was happening in that moment. And I felt it.

Instantly my mood shifted. I felt a lightness, a wonder, a marvel at how convincing my experience was, and how deep my human experience. I was amazed at how I had done nothing to change my mood. I had done nothing to address the issues. I had done nothing to work out what was me and what was Steve. And yet! My mood had shifted by itself, with zero hard work on my part.

Choosing to do nothing but just continue to be in my experience was the fastest and easiest way to change my mood: What a difference to my previous approach!

Steve came to bed and tried to assure me that he wasn’t ‘discounting the subject of what I was saying’. What does that even mean?! I laughed inside!

So I asked him if he was feeling like an arsehole. He said yes. I asked him if he felt that would change if I felt better. Something in him seemed to turn around – that’s the thing about seeing things differently; he didn’t need to answer the question because the question was helping him to drop out of his thinking. Then I said the same thing to him as I’d said to myself:

When you feel like an arsehole you feel like an arsehole.

His thinking had concluded that he had been an arsehole and consequently he was feeling what that feels like – guilty, ashamed, rubbish – even despondent too. But it actually had nothing to do with how I reacted. It all happened within his own head. His brain had concluded that that was an appropriate response to the situation, and consequently he was feeling it. And the moment he realised it he wasn’t struggling with it anymore. He wasn’t struggling to atone for his actions, or to make the feeling go away. [click_to_tweet tweet=”When you stop struggling to control your mood it is free to change all by itself.” quote=”When you stop struggling to control your mood it is free to change all by itself.”]

So then there we were: Two people, both totally ok again. Both free to feel what they felt without having to make it about something or dependent on someone else or something that needed to change. Both in a state where all that struggle and worry had dropped away leaving behind peace and connection.

That’s a recipe for a good night’s sleep and a long term relationship.

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