When our partner snaps at us, s/he is generally sending us a distress signal. That distress may be connected to an immediate need that is not being met; to a sense of being overwhelmed; to a feeling of inadequacy or of being misunderstood; or even to an old (painful or uncomfortable) family-of-origin dynamic or trauma that is being triggered.
In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High (2013), authors Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler observe how easily our eons-old defense mechanisms kick in, when we match an inappropriate or sharp comment, accusation or unkind shot with our own hasty, ugly reaction. With absolutely no clue as to what is going on in our partner’s head, the opportunity for understanding and connection is missed.
Many of us, possibly most of us, find it challenging not to react immediately to various triggers without anger, irritation, or defensiveness. Rather than take the time to contemplate and reflect, we react much like Pavlov’s conditioned dogs. And thus we go through life, repeating the same script over and over, with little awareness that we have the choice to respond differently.