Untangling Crossed Signals in Relationships

Miscommunication in couples

Src: twoofus.org

From the moment he walks into the house at the end of the day, an hour earlier than I expect, I can tell he’s already in a state. He looks at me with joyless eyes as he gives me a half-hearted hug. He engages in conversation politely, but the normal lively spirit isn’t there. He says he is simply tired, but I feel like my words suddenly either bore him or annoy him to no end.

When we finish with dinner, we chat about work and a new app he wants to invent. When I ask questions, he seems defensive. I stand to bring the dishes back to the kitchen, scraping some leftover off the plate. Without looking at him, I can tell he’s irritated by the sound so I quickly head to the kitchen.

I return from rinsing off dishes, and he has logged into Facebook on the computer/TV in the main room. I don’t think he was expecting me back so soon. As I begin to fold the freshly laundered clothes, including some of his own, he comments about a ridiculous post by one of his friends. He talks in a mocking tone, though he is part of that online dialogue, I point out. When I try to get at whether he’s being sarcastic or serious about his observation, he is visibly annoyed, cutting off the conversation and closing out Facebook with a “Whatever.”

After finishing laundry and putting my clothes away, I return to the living room and find the lights turned off and him nowhere in sight. I call out for him curiously, and he says he’s going to read in the room before disappearing again. Taking that as a sign he wants to be alone, I change my direction for the night. I do the dishes after all. I read for a bit. I do yoga for a bit, and then I read some more.

Somewhere during this time, we cross paths in the kitchen, and he reaches out for a hug. “Sorry for my lack of exuberance,” he says. I shrug it off, with a typical, “It’s okay,” even though I’m not quite sure what he means.

Src: Ink361.com

Src: Ink361.com

I know when he needs his space, I must respectfully give it to him, without questions, or there will be problems. Our relationship almost derailed permanently two years ago this month for taking his distance personally and for pushing too far, with attitude, about the way he disappeared. In similar situations, I’m still walking on eggshells, but so it is. I understand this occasional need for sudden space, after more than a year and half of living together, but I still wish he was able or willing to warn me ahead of time—or that I could read auras of mood immediately to ensure no feathers are needlessly ruffled.

In the middle of the dark, I grab my cell phone and send him a message on Facebook. I tell him if he needs more extended time alone to just let me know, and I’ll get away for a couple days. I think to myself, maybe it will give him a chance to miss me (and I him). Maybe not seeing each other at all for a couple days will remind him of how interesting and desirable to be around I can be.

When I am finally ready for sleep, I hesitantly go into our room and get into bed. Even though he’s fast asleep, I feel waves of discomfort. I’m still processing today’s sudden change in temperature of our interactions, plus the cough of my cold is picking up again. I head to the couch, where I run through the cycle of cough, toss and turn, sleep, and repeat.

At 5 a.m., I wake up with gooey cobwebs in my eyes. My body no longer feels comfortable balled up on the couch. I decide I’ll go back to bed, to have any chance of falling back asleep. Unfortunately, my cough picks up to an almost constant refrain. After more than half an hour, I can tell he is fully woken up by this. And I am too. I hear him get up, go to the bathroom, then head back to his office. I cough and cough, rolling onto my back, eyes closed, willing myself to fall back asleep.

He’s likely watching porn, as per his early morning routine. I imagine him deriving more pleasure from rubbing it out alone in the shower than the blowjob I had been planning to love him up with the night before. Before I was given the freeze out. I’m not upset; just tired and bewildered.

I wedge another pillow under me, raising my upper body. My cough begins to wane. But it’s too late for more sleep for him, for m….

An hour later, I awaken. He hasn’t said goodbye to me for leaving for work. This disappoints me a little, but I’m too distracted by my cold to get truly upset. That’s when I hear him walking the hallways. He’s moving slowly this morning apparently.

I get up and go to my “office.” When he gets out of the shower, I go into the bathroom to wash the cobwebs out of my eyes. He is standing in the kitchen, getting his bags together when I get out. I decide it’s ridiculous to wait for him to talk before saying anything.

Img src: jeanneguy.com

Img src: jeanneguy.com

I apologize for waking him up so early with my coughing. He says he’s sorry my cold is so bad this morning. After a hug, he tells me not to overdo it today. I tell him that I’ll try. My IM goes unmentioned and hasn’t been replied to. I don’t know if he even noticed I wasn’t in the bed most of the night.

With too little sleep, it’s going to be a long day for both of us. I’ll definitely want to tread lightly in our interactions tonight. Hopefully we’ll both wake up on the right side of bed tomorrow, and neither of us will feel remnants of eggshells under our foot.

What Couples Uncover When Chatting About Their Unique Relationships

Src: Flickr Creative Commons/ellenlove

Src: Flickr Creative Commons/ellenlove

This past weekend we went to a housewarming party, where we got to spend time with a few of our favorite couples. As always, the Warrior Poet and I learn so much from our conversations with them, giving us further insight into how others relate successfully and unsuccessfully in their romantic endeavors. Two interesting things arose in conversation that night—how couples communicate (or don’t) and how couples deal with conflict.

One of the surprising statements of the night was that having a max of 15 or so minutes of meaningful communication per day was the reality for others. “Neither of us are big talkers,” the guy in one of the couples explained. They enjoy being in each other’s company, but not don’t feel the need for much chatting. Another couple gets in fights frequently over communication blunders and misunderstandings.

WP and I exchanged knowing glances—our days wouldn’t be complete without some serious downtime talking with each other about more than just a play-by-play of our respective days. Whether we are discussing our goals for the next steps in our respective careers, contemplating the cosmos or trying to solve the world’s crises over lack of resource, or we’re making up parody lyrics or ridiculous names for our brood of non-existent dysfunctional children, a day doesn’t feel complete without looking into each others eyes and really jumping into each other’s minds for a good chunk of time. Two-and-a-half years into the relationship, we continue to lose track of time some nights because we’re so busy talking about whatever comes up.

Admittedly, we haven’t been together for more than a decade; as much as we already know and understand about each other, we still delight in discovering even more. And we don’t have children, which takes up a lot of time, attention and energy for parent couples. Nor are we a workaholic power couple spreading ourselves too thin to have the energy to do much more than the necessary check-ins. Yet, we also have our own, full lives we’re living.

I am working on building my own business, am constantly educating myself and following a half dozen passions—while also dealing with health and financial stress. WP’s work life is consistently frustrating, and he is extremely driven in his pursuits outside of work and rarely gets home before 8 p.m. at night. Yet on the two days we both work from home, we make an effort to briefly check in throughout the day. And each night, we eat dinner together and spend time in each others company until falling asleep.

Admittedly, sometimes the night is full chill mode of listening to podcasts or watching something or the computer. Or we decide to wind up the night reading side by side in bed. Sometimes, WP gets home late and exhausted, and we have barely enough time to prepare and eat dinner before he falls asleep. Yet, whatever we are doing, the time together is paramount, and we enjoy the time we carve out to talk to each other, no matter the topic. It’s what makes us feel happy and complete.

The other big thing that came up in our couples’ conversations the other night was how conflict is resolved. One couple is aware that it is made up of two, explosive and stubborn individuals. The longest they’ve gone without talking was a full week, which I cannot even fathom. The individuals in the other couple both hate conflict, but the man can’t stand leaving things unresolved for very long so he initiates airing things out. The rare times that things get weird between WP and me, I’m usually the one who has to bring up the topic to get us to directly address it.

Interestingly, yesterday I got on WP’s nerves because I was washing dishes while he was trying to cook meals for the week. I thought I was doing a good thing by cleaning new dishes that he would was going to need for the baking. He started sighing loudly and eventually went to sit in the corner and got one the phone until I was done. I left the room in an annoyed huff, mumbling, “I was just trying to wash the dust off the dishes for you.”

I sat and stewed for a while. I know WP is very sensitive to people and sounds, and it can drive him crazy not to have full reign of the kitchen when he is cooking. Yet he does all the cooking, and I feel better when I can do anything to help. Sometimes this is tolerated, but yesterday it was not.

It made me feel badly that I was just another annoyance to him at the time. I know how territorial he is about his kitchen at times and that I can’t take this too personally, but I would much rather have had him say something than just very audibly and dramatically sighing in annoyance over something that lasted less than five minutes. So I clung to my hurt feelings for a couple hours, though he seemed fine.

But after watching thought-provoking documentaries together, he initiated discussing the global issues the shows brought up that were much more significant than a kitchen showdown. Any awkwardness that had built up dissipated, and I openly engaged in the conversation as usual. No harm, no foul.

I know, like any couple, we can still improve on our communication, especially when neither of us is feeling at our best. We like to assume we can read each other’s minds, and get frustrated when it’s not always so. Yet I’m grateful that these moments aren’t very frequent and almost never lead to frustrated outbursts or tears. Neither of us thrives on such things.

It’s different strokes for different folks, and that’s what makes observing and learning about other relationships so fascinating. Different personalities have their own ways for navigating through the landscape of their relationships and making things work for them. Sharing our varied experiences can be a great way to learn from each other…and it definitely makes for entertaining group conversations.

A Broken Heart Just in Time For A Day of Lovers

Src: love.catchsmile.com

Src: love.catchsmile.com

No matter what obstacles we may have had between us, we always had our strength in communication. We could clear up misunderstandings by tracing where miscommunication had deteriorated the true message, eventually getting to the root of clear intent. A stop in the flow was only a temporary pause, until we could once again get the opportunity to openly express our feelings back and forth directly.

This silence is killing me. You claim it is to digest things, but I don’t know what there is to digest. You behaved in a way I felt was thoughtless. I voiced my discontent. You saw why I was upset and apologized. We also eventually voiced how we stood at different stages regarding the next chapter in our relationship. I had moved onto the next topic of discussion but you were still sending jabs at me as payback from the other topic. I didn’t recognize you then.

There were flickers of recognition when you backtracked and apologized. Yet when I attempted to further make peace, the stranger returned, metaphorically spitting back in my face, still unable to let go. Then I met stony silence.

You know I don’t do well with being shut out. That’s what started this all in the first place. I get that you are independent. I get that sometimes you need your space. Yet you also have to understand that when I am waiting for you, the respectful thing to do is let me now what’s going on and where you are. The loving thing to do is not to ignore me when you return. If you really want to be part of a couple, you don’t digest what’s going on by ignoring me for several days and expect that’s working through a problem.

You say you’re not angry, so this isn’t a cooling down period. What more do you have to digest? That I can get justifiably upset, and you don’t like that? You don’t think that’s what couples sometimes do? For 10 months of a relationship, having this occur once like this is really not so life ending. Yet you think that that’s reason to just throw your hands up and shut the door in my face?

After behaving like you’ve been so passionately in love with me up until just days ago, I don’t know how you so can quickly shut off the light. It makes me feel like none of this was real. It was all just fantasy. You wanted to want to be in a relationship. You wanted be in love. You wanted to be loved. Yet when it came down it, if it got hard, you were ready to disengage. It was doomed to fail anyway, isn’t that how your mind works?

We were “supposed” to be moving in together in a couple of months, and now I’ll be alone on my Valentine’s Day. Not that the actual day means anything, but your silence speaks volumes. I guess our relationship doesn’t mean enough to you to fight for and work through when the going gets a little hairy. As much as it hurts me, as much as I thought we stood the chance better than anyone, I guess I was wrong. I know I deserve better than that.

My One-Week Countdown to 35: Day 2

Better late than never:

Later this, I will be turning the big 3-5. I know, it’s hard for even me to believe it, but it’s true. While I know it’s not exactly over the hill, as a never-been married woman with no kids, it makes me feel pretty damn old if I think about it too much. So to silence the ridiculous screams of “spinster” and “cat lady” in my subconscious, I’ve decided to count the days until my birthday with 35 reasons why I am filled with gratitude that I am a perfect age.

Each day I will be listing off (at least) five reasons why I’m thankful to be me at this particular point and time in my life. They will be in no particular order. For the last week, I’ve been thinking of 10 things I feel grateful for each day, so I am hoping this will be no sweat. If you feel so inclined, let me know what you think.

1. I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.

The-Kindness-of-Strangers-mdnI am a proud bookworm who frequents our small-town library easily once a week, if not more. I’m a familiar face to all of the librarians, and I became friendly acquaintances with several of them while I was editor/reporter for a town publication, as I covered events at the library frequently. When I grew too sick to continue working that job, the librarians were concerned as I stopped coming in. When my parents would come to collect books for me, the librarians would express their best wishes and hopes for my continued recovery.

Once I was back on my feet, my regular visits to the library resumed and the women working there expressed joy to see me doing better.  One of those women soon became especially friendly. As soon as I walked into the library, she’d walk back to the book holds to get any books borrowed from other libraries that were waiting for me, and she always greeted me with a smile and friendly words.

One day during snowy weather, the library was still open and I got a call that some books were ready for me to pick up. This librarian offered to drop them off at my house, saying she drove by my house on her way home anyway. Surprised and grateful, I watched as she walked quickly through the wet precipitation with books and CDs in a plastic bag to hand off to me. I thanked her warmly for making such a kind gesture.

She just did it again when I had no transportation to get to the library all week. When I saw her, she said, “Any time you don’t get her for a while, I figure I can just bring your items on hold to you. I drive by your house every day to and from work, and bringing my son to school and back. It’s my pleasure.” Someday soon I will have to think of something very thoughtful to do for her.

2. I am grateful for the generosity of friends

It can be difficult to maintain friendships when your health (and sometimes mood) has so many ups and downs. Plans get canceled necessarily at the last minute. Some friends become frightened by what they don’t know—as I’m overcoming a seizure-like disorder, friends have anxiety that they’ll have to deal with an episode and not know what to do—while words like chemo can be triggers for other friends. Add that on top of the already hectic schedules that arise when the majority of your friends are 30 years and above, navigating marriages or long-term relationships, families, either working at home or at an outside office and other societal obligations.

Anyway, there was a local woman in publishing who had been keeping her eye on my work for a couple years. When she started a group for getting alumni together and allowing them to keep in touch and tied to their hometown, I was mildly curious, but I noticed most of the people involved were much older than I. Finally, this year, this woman reached out and encouraged me to come to one of the monthly events, promising that they were young at heart. So I did.

It turns out that this woman is one of the most giving and generous people I know. She’s driven me around when I haven’t had rides, helped to find me a music gig to get me back to performing again, plus she’s constantly going out of her where to do kind things for all the people she cares about in her life. She’s a networker who connects people because she truly enjoys helping people make their dreams come true.

She’s a giver of the greatest kind. A night owl, she’ll get up especially early to drive you to a job interview at 9 a.m. She’ll think of you when she has extra tickets to an artistic event she knows you’d be interested in. She’ll even drive you to the hairdresser just so you can look especially nice for your boyfriend and a large holiday party. I am so grateful to her for generous spirit—not just because of everything she’s done for me, but because she inspires me to keep giving, whatever position I happen to find myself in life.

3. I am grateful for the Soul Beauty challenge.

A fellow health coach and another great inspiration to me, Christy Foster, runs Soul Carrot Health Coaching at http://soulcarrot.com . As part of her own birthday, Christy ran an empowering, uplifting and enlightening program called Soul Beauty, which invited women to dig down deep inside themselves, to address their insecurities and fears, acknowledge what makes them unique and special and to be bold about their own beauty—from the inside out.

The sense of community that has grown from this program continues long past its official end. I continue to learn and grow from other women’s journeys and by answering some of the questions posed, forcing me to shine a light on my own blocks. Most recently, Christy posed the following question to us: If there was ONE thing you could do without feeling judged, what would it be? I had quite a few things that came to mind, but for the last few months, I’ve been itching to play around with my appearance. Apparently a lot of other women in the group felt similarly. We shared similar concerns—we felt we that we were “too old,” that changing how we looked on the outside too “radically” might not fight into a professional environment, or that dealing with more conservative friends and family who disapproved were a deterrent.

PinkHairA tattoo, something I could hide more easily, is too expensive right now. I am being extremely particular about the design, which will be more of a mosaic of tattoos. So while going to get my hair done on Friday, I got into a conversation with the hairdressing talking about the challenges of doing certain hair procedures on dark, naturally curly hair like mine. That’s when she mentioned an extremely convenient, newer option for bringing new life to my hair, at my own pace, in my own home. It didn’t take much for me to say, “I’m going for it!”

This is what resulted. I got overwhelmingly positive response. And best of all, I feel amazing. And, as Christy said to me, it looks like ME.

4. I am grateful for the unconditional support of friends like @thecrazymagnet.

Though we live 30000 miles away from one another, I feel like he is one of my closest friends, and we can share more intimate details, as well the everyday happenings in our respective lives. Though I know it can be hard for him to give objective advice when I come to him frustrated over different things going on in with me, especially with regard to dating and relationships, he still listens like a trooper, gives me his brutally honest opinion and is there to support if things don’t work out as I had hoped or expected. He’s also been great at keeping me entertained during those days when I couldn’t much more than leave the bed.

5. I am grateful for my improved communication skills in my relationship.

Last week, the boyfriend and I got into a disagreement, mainly because I was feeling taken for granted, mainly neglected, during a time that meant a lot to me to feel connected. I also felt my intelligence and experiences within the same discipline that he also is exploring, albeit in a different direction, were not recognized, honored, and therefore, when he spoke of his study, he spoke down to me as if I couldn’t understand the same underlying process our two passions. My frustration was building up over this and a couple of other things for maybe a week and a half before I had a talk with @thecrazymagnet, and I realized I couldn’t wait until I saw the boyfriend on the weekend to communication.

"ms. understood", conceptual fine art photography ©2006 kelly angard

“ms. understood”, conceptual fine art photography ©2006 kelly angard

Normally in the past, this would be considered as confrontation. I’d be too frightened to talk to my own boyfriend about my wants and needs for that either he didn’t really get it so couldn’t fix it, or that he did get it, but wasn’t really willing and able to do anything to change it—“That’s just how I am.” Unfortunately, we used the workday, which is the worst way to hash out a discussion, especially over IM. After some miscommunications and both of us equally frustrated, I finally took a breath. This is what I mean to say…I felt hurt that you did this because…I worry that you don’t take me as seriously in our conversation topics as you used to…And then I listened. Because the best thing I have learned while being int this conversation, is that when you’re with someone with whom you can so honestly and openly how you feel and what you fear, you are increasing the chances to be understand. Instead of just communicating to be understood, be both strive to really hear and listen so that we can understand. Makes a huge impact on the health of our relationship.

Dumping the Drama, Keeping the Guy

For years, I wondered: Is it possible to be in a passion-filled relationship where drama isn’t a necessary byproduct? After getting an abrupt reminder of the crazy train of relationships-past, I was relieved to realize that was no longer my daily reality.

Recently, the Warrior Poet and I went to a party where we witnesseddrama 300x238 Dumping the Drama, Keeping the Guy two major instances of couples blowing up at each other. Each remembering the wild relationship hijinks of the past, we exchanged grateful glances. “Thank God that will never be us,” he said, wrapping his arms around me.

Read how I finally learned how to flush out the drama, but find myself in one of the most passionate and pleasurable relationships of my life on The Singles Warehouse in my latest post:

http://www.singleswarehouse.co.uk/2012/06/dumping-the-drama-keeping-the-guy