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Love, Reactivity, And Installing A Template For Peace In Our Relationships


Love, Reactivity, And Installing A Template For Peace In Our Relationships

Marina Smerling

You’re in a conversation with someone you care about. You catch a hint that one of you wants more closeness/more space than the other.One of you pulls away in silence, or perhaps pretends that “everything’s fine” with not-so-hidden undertones of hopelessness, while the other moves in closer, perhaps tightening in fear or impatience.

Angry, fearful, or withdrawn reactivity bursts like a flame onto the scene.Criticisms and accusations abound, feeding one another like logs on a fire.

Suddenly: disconnect.No one present in the room.

Sound familiar?

What happens in that split second in which there appears to be a closeness/spaciousness disconnect?

Let's explore here, shall we?

MYTH: There’s an inherent conflict between one person's needs for closeness and the other's needs for autonomy.

REALITY: Much more often, there’s a conflict in the strategies that each person employs to actually *avoid* their needs.

The name of the game of is shame.

So many of us are conditioned to move away from our own needs – whether for closeness or for freedom – because we fear we will look bad in the other person’s eyes, or look bad in our own, harboring a belief, somewhere deep down, that our needs are shameful and will cost us human love, belonging, and connection if we express them flat out.

But as it turns out, it’s not our needs that are the cause of the problem.Rather, so often, it’s our lacking a template in which to trust that our needs matter and will be met.


If you’re organized to avoid attachment, you may lack a template for trusting that your need for space and autonomy will be met.

If you’re organized to anxiously crave attachment, you may lack a template for trusting that your need for connection will be met.

Without this template, we typically either:

- Pretend like we really don’t have this need (whether for autonomy or connection), so that we appear more likable than we actually feel, OR
- Desperately try to get the person in front of us to provide-us-with-our-need-right-now!

The antidote to our reactivity is, ironically, moving *toward* our needs and desires more fully, neither pretending they don’t exist, nor pushing them onto someone we care about.

How do we do it?How do we install a new template for trusting our needs matter, and support our relationships in the process?

A few steps:


I recommend physically placing a hand over your heart, and stating: “Mercy for my desire for space and autonomy right now.Mercy for my desire for freedom. Mercy for my humanness in this place.”

Or, conversely, “Mercy for my desire for connection.Mercy for my not knowing how to let go.Mercy for my oh-so-human longing for reassurance and closeness right now.”

Let your body soften to receive your human longing, even if you don’t know how to get it met. This first step is key: *allowing* your human self to be here.


Yes, while you’re in the pit of conflict, it might seem like a strange time to celebrate, but truly, this is so key to the healing we need to have freedom and flexibility around our needs, so that we’re present in the face of them, not just reactive when they appear threatened.

“I love space!”
“I love freedom!”
“I love closeness!”
“I love connection!”

Try on your own language of celebrating your need – whether it’s, “I really value ____” or “____ means so much to me.”There’s no wrong way to celebrate, and reclaim the beauty of your need.

See if you can speak these words, not just from your mind, but from every cell of your body.Imagine each cell is celebrating a precious nutrient that it needs to thrive.


Go back in time for a moment, calling up your younger self in your mind’s eye.See and feel that younger version of you needing space/autonomy/connection… and then see that need held, honored, protected by those around you.If your parents and/or guardians were incapable of that at the time, get creative.

Call up an angel, or an ancestor, or even some fierce-but-fuzzy spirit animal to be your guardian, to uphold your needs on your behalf.

You might see your toddler self surrounded by grandmothers, keeping you safe, protecting your autonomy.You might see your infant self held in an angel’s arms, sweetly caressed, gazed at, and tended to.You might see your pre-teen self held closely on the back of a grizzly bear, strapped on for closeness to mama bear’s back, held tight and safe there.

It’s in this way that you get to call in a new template – one that says: your needs matter.Your needs are seen.Your needs are honored, cared for, and supported.

Notice what happens in your body, here and now, when you call up these images in your mind’s eye.Let the sensations, images, and feelings install a new template in your body-mind, one by which you can trust that your needs matter – and will be met.


With this new template in place – one which is, no doubt, a *practice* to maintain – you just may find yourself more present, more calm, more spacious, and less reactive in the face of someone stating a preference seemingly contrary to yours.

Suddenly, the baseline is “my needs can get met” rather than “oh crap, it’s another fight on the horizon.” From this, more deeply trusting place, you may be surprised at how you’re able to respond to the other person, regardless of whether they are aware of their own needs in that moment.


It’s never too late.

It’s never too late to come back to our essential selves, full of life and needs for freedom and connection alike, vibrant, shining, free to be fully human.

It’s never too late to reclaim our capacity for flexibility and spaciousness in the face of another’s preferences.

Try it on. Your essential self, trusting of the life that churns within, awaits you.

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