By Lindsey Walker, LMFT
PACT Level II practitioner
You’re lying in bed, curled to one side, your blankets pulled up tight and cozy. It’s cool and quiet, and the night has long fallen around you. “Ah, sweet slumber,” you think, “just moments away.” But wait, what’s this? Your mind is racing as if you’ve just had your morning cup, and your heart is fluttering to match. You’re far from slowing down, yet a little voice inside keeps trying to convince you it is time for bed and you’ll be drifting off to sleep in no time.
If only you and your partner hadn’t just had that fight.
Mere inches away, the love of your life is also pretending to sleep. What a fantastic game of charades you find yourselves in—each keeping up your act while guessing if the other is actually sleeping or is just lying there and waiting. You both want the other to reach out, say something, do something, acknowledge the other’s existence. But pride gets the better of you, and neither one of you moves.
Tick. Tock. The minutes are eating away at your much-needed rest. Thankfully, long before the morning light, it dawns on you that the best way to get your precious Zs is to show your partner some sign that you are still in it together—to offer relief.
You realize you have a choice. You don’t have to listen to the voice that says, “Okay, I’ll lie here until I pass out, and we can deal in the morning. And, boy, will I have won this if I can fall asleep, having gotten in those smart remarks.”
Instead, you can tell yourself, “Reach out. Touch her. It will be okay. Really. Let her know that you love her and care for her. You can make her feel better…”
Only the second option is pro-relationship. It allows for quick repair in a way that is beneficial to both of you. Many couples do not realize that winning an argument often looks different from what they imagine. It’s not about one person ending up the champ and the other knocked out, bloodied, down for the count on the floor of the ring. To really win in a relationship, both partners need to win. And on occasion, both need to lose.
Many couples who come in for therapy find this kind of pro-relationship stance tricky to envision. They are used to a winner-loser model of arguing, which is usually rooted in some kind of unfairness they experienced growing up. PACT offers tools to help them realize they do have a choice in their relationship.
Specifically—and paradoxically—devotion to your partner’s well-being is more supportive and more protective, and offers more opportunities for growth for you, than does putting yourself first. If you and your partner have conflicts that leave you with sleepless nights, a PACT therapist may guide you through a reenactment of the night’s events. This will slow down what happened so you can gain valuable insight not only about your partner, but also about your own thoughts and feelings. You will have the opportunity to move away from your wired-in, habitual reactions that are focused on self-preservation and to move toward greater mutuality.
A PACT therapist is also adept at guiding you through the powerful arena of touch so you can discover each other’s sensitivities and strengthen your ability to feel and understand what is soothing for the other. This enables each partner to truly become an expert at helping the other be calm in an anxious moment. By choosing a simple, friendly touch, you both begin to melt. Your bodies respond to the connection—slowing, calming, comforting, and bringing you back to a place where you can really talk, listen, and be open to one another.
If you are able to use simple touch after that late-night argument, and just hold one another to make amends, you have at your disposal a powerful means of quick repair. Then, soon after, you will both drift off to a restful night’s sleep.