What do you do when your partner has a hissy fit?
When s/he explodes over something small, or even medium-sized, that affects him or her and seems to feel you are the lucky recipient of the wrath, judgments, inequities, upsets and irritations?
- Do you watch?
- Listen and watch?
- Try to understand?
- Try to defend?
- Try to talk him or her down?
- Try to talk sense and reason?
- Get angry yourself?
- Walk away?
- Given him/her the cold shoulder or a lot of space?
What is your response to the seemingly unreasonable behavior of your partner?
Let’s amend that: the behavior has a reason. All behavior is motivated. Maybe the reason here is to get you to join him or her in the misdirected discomfort, and/or to have you participate in the release of their upset. If s/he is truly not emotional grown-up, or is having a really bad moment as the hissy fit would indicate, the reason is to have you somehow take the pain, frustration, fear and upset away by taking it on!
Is that what having a partner is for? So you can vent and dump on them, just because they have committed to doing life with you? I hope not.
Recently, I listened to a conversation that was such a dump:
“It’s hot, and I didn’t have any money to get something to eat or drink. And, then, you weren’t right here when I came looking for you.”
That was the gist of the message, repeated in several ways with expletives for emphasis and a whole lot of blaming energy. How old is this guy? Sounds about eight, doesn’t he? He also failed to add that he came looking for her twenty minutes before the agreed upon meeting time.
What was the woman to do in the face of this? She could:
- Acknowledge that it sounds like he had a frustrating time
- Tell him to settle down
- Remind him that she was where she was supposed to be at the appointed time and that coming to look for her twenty minutes early was his choice
- Tell him his upset was excessive
- Listen and make murmuring “there, there” noises while maintaining eye contact
- Declare quietly that she would be willing to talk about it when there was less heat behind his words
- Suggest he go away and deal with his anger himself, not dumping it on her
- Match his energy and give him a piece of her mind in exchange
- Tell him he was being childish and turn into his mother
- Listen until he played himself out and, hopefully, ran out of steam
- Walk away and tell him to grow up
Some good ideas there, but also some really poor choices. What would you do?
Here’s my suggestion if you are interested in creating a healthy, safe, honest, trusting, respectful relationship, try this next time:
(With some energy) “Wow! You’ve had a frustrating time!”
Pause. Let your partner go on.
(With less energy) “There were a lot of pieces that didn’t seem to go right for you.”
Pause. Let your partner take it in, feel heard and respond.
(In a conversational tone) “It’s sometimes difficult to make all the pieces fit smoothly. I know that feeling.”
Pause. Hopefully, the energy of the hissy fitter will be reduced to something manageable by now and life can proceed.
“What shall we do now?”
It may not all be as smooth or straightforward as that. Parts may need repeating.
It will help you be supportive, empathetic and present to your partner’s emotional needs, while neither inviting or accepting any blame, shame or derision that he or she would like you to share. (Of course, if you were any part or party to the issue, it would be on you to be forthright about it, too. )
Just don’t jump in. When you do nothing to accelerate or escalate a hissy fit, you are wise.
When your partner is having a hissy fit, it is important that you stay calm, interested though detached, thoughtful, compassionate and sane.
If you jump into the “hissy”, neither one of you will be fit to get out anytime soon!