How to Hold Space For Others
By Sapphic Roots
Often, in our practice, we find couples having difficulties receiving and holding space for each other. Perhaps that’s because many of us have never learned what it looks like to hold space for another, possibly, because we have never truly had space held for ourselves.
But, what does it actually mean to hold space for your partner or others in your life? Simply put, it is allowing someone the space and time they need to truly express themselves and be heard. It is a conscious and thoughtful effort to be willing to move with your partner through their emotional journey and to do so empathically, nonjudgmentally, with verbal and nonverbal support and affirmation, and staying focused on the here and now. Holding space for someone does not mean trying to “fix” their problem. Once we remove ourselves from the emotional moment our partner is having to problem solve, we have already ceased to be present in that moment with them anymore.
When humans become engaged in conflictual or emotional situations, our brains begin triggering a complex physiological process that stimulates the parts of the brain responsible for expressing emotion and executive functioning ( i.e decision making and problem solving abilities). This chain reaction can flood our brains with chemicals like cortisol (the stress hormone) that make it much more difficult for us to effectively respond to others when in a heightened state of emotionality. Ever heard of fight, flight, or freeze? When the body feels stressed, it will likely respond in one of those three different ways. Fight means to combat the issue and defend your own physical or emotional safety. Flight means to run away or disengage with the issue at hand. Lastly, freeze means your body is in such shock that you are literally paralyzed with fear of the potential outcome. These are all of our natural responses when we are in a moment of emotional, biological, and cognitive chaos.
One of the most frequent dilemmas that our clients have raised about holding space for their partners is their difficulty with remaining supportive and not defensive. It is very easy when encountering such emotionality to feel attacked or triggered, especially when your partner is expressing her difficulties within your relationship. These are the exact moments when it is more important than ever to hold space. If you are present enough to defend yourself, you can be present enough to hold space. This does not mean that your feelings about the situation do not matter, of course they do, but, if you become distracted by your own feelings when you are supposed to be listening to her, you are no longer holding that space for her, and arguments will most likely occur. Take care of yourself in this moment by using your own self soothing coping skills to bring your brain back to emotional equilibrium.
Of course that sounds super easy in theory, but what are ways that you can remind yourself of these things in the moment? Well, here are a few helpful tools that may help.
- Take a deep breath if you feel yourself triggered by something she says instead of responding immediately.
- Create vocabulary between you and your partner that will let you know when space needs to be held and agree that when this language is used that you will immediately do just that. Example; “ I need you to hold space for me right now.”
- Remember that if your partner was emotionally able to handle herself at the moment then you would not need to hold space for her, so let the little things go.
- Give her affirmation when she is done speaking that everything that she says and feels is valid and ask her how you can help. It may also be helpful to paraphrase back to her what you thought she was saying to ensure that you understood her. If you do this, remember to continue to keep your cool and stay focused on the task at hand, holding space for her.
- Lastly, use this as an opportunity to step up your game. If she has never deserved her feet rubbed or her favorite meal cooked before, now is the time to pull out all of the cards. This is not admitting that you did anything wrong, but it will help her understand that you are trying to be there for her in multiple ways and she will appreciate the effort.
Adhering to the important characteristics we talked about before (being nonjudgmental, supporting and affirming, and in the here and now), she can now feel you have heard her fully and respected her emotional journey. Remember, with conflict also comes clarity.
Sapphic Roots is a loving partnership of Dr. Katrina Sanford Sex Therapist and Clinical Psychologist and Sadiqua Iman, a licensed massage therapist and Ayurvedic Nutritional Counselor. Together they have devised a holistic approach to helping monogamous couples and polyamorous partnerships build stronger foundations, better communication, and innovative approaches to the complexities of women loving women relationships.
Sapphic Roots also host the C.L.I.T. Podcast produced by LezLink LLC Listen here on LezLink.co or find them on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play.