By Adam D. Blum, MFT, Gay Therapy Center Founder and Director
You are dating a five-year-old. Yes, that man across the dinner table from you--the one with beard stubble and crow's--feet is actually a five-year-old boy.
So are you.
All of us retain our experiences as children throughout our lives. And when we are fighting with our boyfriends there's a good chance that our inner five-year-old vulnerabilities have been triggered.
Here's an example. "Max" gets furious when his boyfriend "Bill" yells a request from the downstairs office. Many people don't like yelling in the house but for Max there is an extra layer of trigger here. Max's father, who could summon a scary rage, would frequently shout angry demands at him from his basement workshop.
And so a negative cycle begins: Bill innocently yells for some help from downstairs, Max becomes enraged due to the trigger of his experiences as a boy, and then Bill gets upset at Max for his angry tone. Max notices that Bill is grouchy and responds with a new round of anger and distancing.
Bill has his own five-year-old boy triggers. He hates it when Max tries to hold his hand. It reminds him of his mother who was clingy, needy, and dependent. So Bill pulls his hand away with annoyance when Max tries to grab it. Max is hurt by this physical withdrawal and there begins another cycle of distancing that results in a depressing evening of fighting and tension.
To be a really good boyfriend, one of your jobs is to know your partner's five-year-old triggers (as well as your own.) You'll find it relieving to know that his behavior has less to do with anything you did wrong and has more to do with the vulnerable, cute but hurt kid he usually keeps deep inside.
This knowledge allows you to take his actions less personally and to develop empathy for him. And empathy is the fuel that powers great relationships.
Once we know the deeper reasons behind our partner's angry responses we tend to be more motivated to avoid pushing on that bruised place. You probably won't want to refrain from yelling your requests from downstairs if you think your partner is simply being annoying and self-centered in his aversion to your request for help.
However, if you remind yourself of your partner's five-year-old experience of being frightened and miserable due to his father's angry commands, then it is much easier to feel motivated to walk upstairs and ask him where he left the wrench.
When your partner is seemingly unreasonable, take a moment to wonder what is really happening. Did his five-year-old vulnerable self get stepped on? If so, think how you would you calm an upset five-year-old. You would probably make an empathic comment and then offer a hug, right?
If it works for a five-year-old then it may just work with your boyfriend.
*Not their real names.
For more information about how we help individuals and couples please visit our website at www.thegaytherapycenter.com. We offer services in our San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles offices or by Skype or phone worldwide.