In the early 90’s, John and I drove to rural Pennsylvania from North Carolina. His research adviser, a computer science professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, was throwing a 50th birthday party for his wife, who was an English Professor at Syracuse University in New York. They owned a Mennonite farmhouse from when they were both professors at Penn State University. He had a pilot’s license and a small plane. This was the house he flew to when he and his wife spent time together.

The distance between North Carolina and Pennsylvania is sizable. We were newly married and both in graduate school. We didn’t have a lot of money and hence, no form of reliable transportation. But we wanted to go to the party. So we rented a car, packed our bags, and drove north.

The drive was really quite beautiful especially through Appalachia. If you have never been through the eastern U.S., the Appalachian Mountains are beautiful and old. Because they are old, they are worn. They are not snow-capped. I’ve always thought of them as lovely broccoli-green hills speckled with charming farm houses and old grain mills. Ah, there are also the fireflies that light up the hillside.

It was so beautiful. Ahhhhhhhhh. The drive was so relaxing, so breath taking… And then I took a look at the gas gauge. “Hey, John, you’re down to a quarter of a tank.”

“That’s plenty of gas”, he replied.

“John! We are out in the middle of nowhere!”

“Don’t worry about it.”

I relaxed and as I get ever so slightly car sick, I fell asleep. I awoke to John frantically saying, “There’s something wrong with the car! We’ve lost power.”

“John. We. Ran. Out. of. Gas.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”


This was before cell phone days and we really were out in the middle of nowhere. We hitched a ride to the nearest gas station (‘OH-MY-GOD-YOU-MADE-US-HITCH-HIKE!!!!”), bought gas and hitched a ride back to the car. Then we drove to a gas station. I would say that we went upon our merry way. I mean, we actually had a wonderful time on that trip, in the end.

But in the mean time, we had what has become an age-old argument between the two of us:

Me: “There’s a problem coming; here’s what you need to do.”

J: “There’s no problem. Stop worrying about it.”

Me: “See? There was a problem. You don’t listen to me!!!!”

J: “I could have handled it. You are treating me like a child. Also, whatever problem MIGHT occurred is your fault, anyway.”

Me: “Don’t you remember that time I TOLD YOU that we were running out of gas”…

There are many versions of his argument. Since it’s my blog, I started out with an example of a time when John truly did blow me off and then blamed me for the outcome.

Oh, I so dislike it when he does that! It is so frustrating and then the “and it’s your fault” part really hurts.

But there are other versions of this fight, ones that I am not as likely to remember.

E: “I am feeling anxious. Anything could be a problem right now. Hey look, there’s a problem. DON’T YOU SEE THE PROBLEM! HEY, YOU NEED TO RESPOND TO ME. THERE’S A PROBLEM!!!! SEE THE PROBLEM!!!! HEAR THE PROBLEM!!!!”

J: (Actually trying to get his wife to CALM THE HELL DOWN): “There’s no problem. Don’t worry about it. I will handle all of this.”


And then it ends up that the problem didn’t occur.

E: (Thinking to herself) “Wow, good thing I went ape shit there. Otherwise, WE WOULD HAVE HAD THAT PROBLEM I KNEW WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.”

Those are two versions. In one version, John is not at his best. In the other, I am not at my best. Of course, there are many other versions of this conversation. But they are not as memorable because they are healthy and functional.

Most of our communication is healthy and functional. And what I mean by most, is the vast majority. But we do get stuck on those two examples, the first of John’s under-responsiveness and the second of my insistent and anxious problem solving.

I have no tidy answers for this communication problem. I am describing it as part of my mindfulness practice in hopes of continuing to chip away at the way these conversations trigger strong emotional reactions from each of us.

I do know that we have had versions of these arguments hundreds of times in our 27 years together. I have learned in studying marriage and marital therapy that there are perpetual arguments that even happy couples have. There is a difference in how these perpetual arguments are handled, however, John and I are working hard.

If I keep working hard, I know that he will FINALLY start doing what I tell him to do.

I kid, I kid, I kid!