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How the Rules of Relationships Need to Change to Accommodate the Needs of Meltdown-prone Adults

By Gbollard @gbollard

Last time, I talked about adult meltdowns and how they're just as real as meltdowns in children but are usually more controlled (due mainly to experience and self-knowledge). I also talked about how both physical and emotional restraint can bring about a more explosive and dangerous meltdown.  Today, I want to discuss how meltdowns occur in relationships and how keep your family and possessions safe.

I've had new couples tell me that they're getting married and that they've "perfect for each other" because they've never had a fight - or even a disagreement. I'm usually far from impressed with this degree of "love" and suggest that they at least wait until they've had a few fights. You see, some people fight dirty. Some people give in too easily and some people hold grudges. It's really not a good idea to settle into a long term relationship without a good idea of how you and your partner fight, what tips them over the edge and how to calm them down.

This is very true of meltdowns.  If you have meltdowns, then it's important that your partner knows about them before they happen - and especially, before you get into a long-term relationship.
The Long and Short of it
Meltdowns are weird beasts, they usually occur due to long term issues with short term triggers.  For example, a partner may have a low sense of worth, perhaps they were never able to do anything succesfully in handyman areas.  Home repairs may not come easily to them. This is certainly the case with me.  You may find yourself volunteered into various activities by your partner. For example, painting a room, fixing a tap or even helping out at a working bee.  All of these are potential meltdown events, they are full of short term triggers which could cause a person to go into a meltdown state.
As partners, you need to be acutely aware of your partners long and short term issues.  You need to know what things are likely to trigger meltdowns but you also need to understand how  a small issue, for example, a failed repair, could balloon into a giant one.  These triggers need to be avoided.  If your partner has issues with something, then don't make them do it. Remember the "restraint" that I talked about last time?  Requiring your partner to do something that they clearly have issues with is a form of restraint.
Leave it well enough alone
When the inevitable meltdown starts, all restraints need to be off and your partner needs to be able to calm down in their own way.  In our handyman example, here are a few things that you should most certainly not do;
1. Say "I knew this would happen" or "I knew you couldn't do it"
2. Say "let me have a go"
3. Say "forget it!, I'll get someone who knows what they're doing to do it"
All of these responses belittle your partner and simply make things worse.  They'll also worsen any situation both in the immediate sense of making the meltdown worse and in the long term sense of affecting self esteem so that future meltdowns become more likely.
If you've "restrained" your partner into the job, then you have to accept that it's at least partially your responsibility. You need to back out and give them an escape clause.  Ideally, either leave them alone or call them inside for lunch or some other kind of break to allow them to unwind.  When they're fully calm, suggest that you call someone for help.
Widening the Example
How the rules of relationships need to change to accommodate the needs of meltdown-prone adultsThis is not just a post about home handymen. Meltdowns occur in all sorts of arenas.  Some people have issues with open spaces or with public speaking. Maneuvering them into one of these areas can trigger a meltdown.  Similarly, some people don't function well in a party atmosphere - so the choice of a home party versus an external party needs to consider whether they have places to retreat to. For some people the trigger is sudden change, for some it's computers and some people simply can't handle vacations.
Whatever the causes, the important thing is to know your partner and understand how your actions and requests could put restraints on them.  Try to avoid sending them into potential meltdown situations and always leave them with a way out. Remember too, that if a meltdown occurs, it is often your own actions which will determine its strength and the degree of damage it does to both your relationship and your posessions. Standing in the way of a partner in meltdown's retreat is a sure-fire way of being hurt or having a hole put through a wall.  Shouting at them or throwing objects is pretty much guaranteed to escalate words into violence and shouting at a retreating back is certain to provoke a return.
Leave them alone, give them time to calm down and remove any restraints on the situation.  Don't send them back into the battlefield when they've calmed down. They need to stay away.
Make a note of what caused the meltdown and try to avoid similar situtations in future. A meltdown-prone partner can become a very good partner with just a little careful planning and avoidance.

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