The most common complaint of couples who come to me is, “We can’t communicate.”

Following a TBI, communication is more important than ever before. The injured partner may be unable to manage their emotions, and the uninjured spouse is overwhelmed and fatigued.

There is so much that you need to talk about and feelings that need to be expressed, and quite simply, you just need to be seen and understood.

Many tips and strategies exist to help you communicate. But even the best strategy will not help unless you do this one thing first.

I want to share with you the skill I teach all my couples before they learn the most effective strategies to communicate and deepen their connection.

If your reaction is bigger than the situation warranted, your lizard brain took over. The “triggers” are reminders of past hurts and traumas. You may feel fear or become overwhelmed, but your body will defend and protect you.

Your brain will protect you in two ways:

  1. Hyperarousal: fight or flight response
  2. Hypoarousal: immobilization or freeze response 

Signs that indicate you are in a state of hyperarousal:

  • Anger/rage
  • Emotional reactivity
  • Defensiveness
  • Overwhelm
  • Hypervigilance
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Intrusive images

Signs that indicate you are in a state of hypoarousal:

  • Emotional numbness
  • Feeling dead inside
  • Disconnectedness
  • Inability to say no
  • Shame
  • Inability to think
  • Lack of energy

It is important to become aware of your signs when you are triggered so you can learn ways to calm your brain and increase your window of tolerance. This will allow you to hold any difficult conversation with your partner.

Signs that indicate you are within your window of tolerance:

  • Ability to feel and think at the same time
  • Curiosity about your partner’s experience (not defensive)
  • Ability to be present in the moment
  • Empathy
  • Tolerance of your feelings
  • Reactions that match current situation

How to calm your brain:

  1. Breathe; take six slow, deep breaths.
  2. Feel your feet on the floor; notice everything in your environment; engage all your senses.
  3. Identify a word or phrase that you focus on (I am safe, relaxed, I’m okay).
  4. Take a time out; tell your partner you are about to say something stupid and come back in twenty minutes.

You can practice staying within your window of tolerance anytime throughout the day. You are working out a new, emotional muscle, but with practice, you will get stronger.