I was with a friend recently and he was very upset. He had been working out of town away from his partner for months, and she had not answered his phone calls/texts for a week and a half. Before this break in communication, she had been with a group of their friends, and she’d mentioned a new guy in the group.
Being alone and away from home, my friend had plenty of time to gnaw on the situation over the last week and a half. “She said she’s busy, but who is that busy? She’s probably involved with this new guy. Maybe she’s cheating on me. She’s moved on and just hasn’t told me. If she really cared, she’d find the time. I should just end this.” As he spoke, he became more and more agitated. We explored his feelings and needs. Feelings: angry, hurt, exasperated, scared, frustrated, and disappointed. Needs: trust, communication, caring, to matter, dependability, and understanding.
We then looked for observations: She hadn’t answered his calls/texts in the last week and a half. Before that she’d gone to a get-together of their friends that included a new guy. She’d said she had a great time. He eventually shared that before the recent communication break, she had called and left a message saying she was very busy and was sorry they had not connected, that she missed hearing his voice and that she loved him.
Focusing on these observations, I said, “It sounds to me like she’s been open, loving, and honest with you.” “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied. I paused and then asked if he felt homesick. “Yeah.” I paused again and asked if he was lonely and missing his partner? “Yeah." I paused, and said, “Do you feel sad?” At that he became silent, and his eyes welled with tears. It was like a switch had been flipped in him. For the first time, he was quiet, and his body relaxed. He was connected to his sadness rather than to the stories he’d created. He had gone from spinning himself into fear and disconnection to grounding himself in his heart.
I think he needed to first connect with the feelings and needs stimulated by the stories he’d been telling himself because that is what he was experiencing when we started talking. He was in such pain from these stories that I don’t think he could have gotten to his loneliness and sadness without first acknowledging his present experience.
I think it’s so important to sharpen our ability to be aware of when we are telling ourselves stories so that we can catch ourselves in the act—and then reground ourselves in observations—and in our hearts.