Archives for posts with tag: communication

We all know people who are hard to contact. They don’t return phone calls, emails, or texts on a consistent basis. My husband is one of those people. It’s kind of a joke in our extended network of family and friends. He’s not mean or thoughtless. He just gets wrapped up in what he is doing at the time and has trouble shifting gears. To be fair, he has gotten much more reliable about returning text messages, though it is not unusual for him to text me a question, my immediately answer it, and then my not hear from him again for quite some time.

Consequently, I don’t communicate with him as much as I’d like to when he’s not home. It’s not particularly effective or satisfying. But I do know that if I REALLY need to contact him at work, if the situation is urgent, I can do it. We have a system. I text him, call his cell phone, and call his office desk phone, one right after the other. Then he knows that he needs to drop what he is doing and to contact me. I don’t do this often, in fact, it’s been years and I don’t even remember the reason I last engaged the Bat phone/text/land line sequence.

John is in southern Utah with his step-dad, camping and backpacking. They’ve been planning the trip for a long time. It is a 10 day long trip, which is slightly longer than our family vacations. They on Saturday of last week. They will return on Tuesday of next week. They are seeing incredible country. John is texting photos to me every day as well as “I miss you” and “I love you” texts. I’ve spoken to him twice by phone. It’s not as if we are not communicating and in fact, this is much more frequent technology-supported communication than we typically exchange. But I can’t rely on being able to contact him at any time. Phone reception is spotty.

I don’t know exactly why but since the day he has left, our daughter has been having a very hard time, and shall we say, she is not suffering in silence. I feel like I am alone in some kind of parenting Hell. We did have a brief texting conversation this morning. He’d spoken to her yesterday and was worried about her, based on the conversation they’d had. I’ve been in a tricky position of wanting him to enjoy his trip but at the same time, I need support and he is my husband. I tried to need less than I did and as usually is the case, this strategy does not work well and I end up getting needier than I was in the first place. This morning, in a texting conversation I told him that I would not agree to him being way and unreachable for so long again. It was not my plan to tell him this. That’s just going to make him worry and detract from his trip. People, I am a work in progress. I will keep trying.

Sometimes being alone is a beautiful and peaceful place. Sometimes it’s just lonely.

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

I am taking a six month class in skills designed, basically, to help me keep my emotional shit together. Unsurprisingly, the first unit is on mindfulness. I got into the class thinking, “Mindfulness, I’ve been doing this for over two years. This will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.”

I am here to tell you that week two has not lived up to it lemon squeezy potential. I have a lot of practice in observing without judgment. I also have a lot of experience describing my feeling states and being somewhat non judgmental about that.

Apparently, there’s other stuff. One of those things is doing things effectively. This has to do with thinking about my goals, at least that’s what I understand so far.

The instructor explained the whole thing. Meanwhile, I can tell you using my describing skills that I felt confused followed by elucidated followed by the realization that I was elucidated and not just confused, but in a different way. Then I think I got it but we will see on Wednesday when I check in about my homework.

And you know that I practiced on hubby. I can go through an interaction with my husband thinking, “Hm, that hurt my feelings and I don’t think John meant to do that. But wow, I am hurt and angry.”

That sounds good, doesn’t it?

Except that often what comes out of my mouth is, “Why did you say that?”

I am here to tell you that asking someone “Why did you say that” or “Why did you do that” when you are hurt, angry, or scared, will get you no where good, fast.

And yet I find myself saying this over and over. It is utterly not in keeping with my goals to be a peaceful loving wife who communicates well with John, whom I love dearly.

Another thing I might do is say nothing and think to myself, “This is not a big deal. Don’t start a fight.”

But in that case I did not accomplish my goal of communicating a hurt that was important to me and I risk getting resentful about it.

So I tried something new. John did something I didn’t like. And I said, “Honey, I am not trying to punish you or fight with you. But I am feeling anxious and angry about x and wondering if we might talk about it?”

It was not the easiest conversation but it was much easier and it was not a fight. But then I got very hurt and angry about something else. In time, he apologized for what he said and sincerely, but I found that I was still hurt and angry. I couldn’t let it drop. But it took me awhile to understand why I couldn’t let it drop. He had said something that might not upset someone else but because of who I am and what is important to me, it hurt. I was still upset because what he’d said had surprised me and I wanted to know that he understood why it was upsetting. I wanted reassurance that he still knew me and what is important to me. I said, “I’m sorry, I am still really hurt about this. I am sorry that I can’t let it drop. I need you to say, x, y, and z.” And then he said those things and he said them sincerely. We had been stuck in one of the arguments that go around and around. And then I felt so much better.  We had a very nice evening after what had been a tense couple of days.

The best thing about this class? I got confused because I encountered some new ideas and skills. That means there are more tools out there for me to learn. This is very reassuring to me.

Last Wednesday, I was on a flight from Los Angeles, California to Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s pretty long for a domestic flight, from one coast to another. I boarded the plane and took my aisle seat in the coach section of the plane. Passengers kept walking past me through the aisle and I expected at some point that I would be standing up to let two people sit in the empty seats to my right. And then the announcement that we were about to take off occurred. How lucky! I was going to get an entire row of the airplane to myself.

Within about 5 minutes, a man in the row behind me asks, “Is anyone sitting there?” I replied, “I don’t know” because 1) sometimes the doors are re-opened for someone boarding the plane late and 2) I didn’t want to say, “no” because HE ALREADY HAD A SEAT! WHAT ABOUT MY ROW TO MYSELF?

He let about two seconds go by after my “I don’t know” to say, “I’m sitting there.”

I got up and let him in. He took the window seat.

Meanwhile the thoughts in my head, “WHAT THE HELL, MAN? HOW RUDE! YOU DIDN’T EVEN ASK ME IF IT WAS OKAY!”

But I kept my thoughts in my head. Even though he made me get up while I was trying to write a post on my computer, so that he could use the bathroom. HOW ANNOYING!

Then it happened.  A woman walked up to the aisle, looked at the middle seat and said, “That’s my husband.” Apparently, this was her manner of communicating her claim to the seat beside him. I said, “You mean, you want to switch seats with me?” She said, “No, you don’t want my seat. It’s a middle seat.” She must not have been seated in the same row as her husband. It was a little confusing. In any event, I climbed out of my seat so that she could take the seat between her husband and me.

Meanwhile the thoughts in my head, “WHAT THE HELL, LADY? HOW RUDE! JUST LIKE YOUR HUSBAND, YOU DIDN’T ASK ME IF IT WAS OKAY TO SIT IN MY ROW!”

My row. My seats. Mine. You people are inconsiderate and have bad boundaries.

I observed my annoyance. I paid for one seat and since I used frequent flier miles, I think the total cost of this leg of the trip was about $5. I had fully expected to sit next to two other passengers when I initially sat down. But once it was announced that the plane was fully boarded, it took me all of five minutes to lay claim to an entire row on an airplane that didn’t belong to me. In fact, I was really just renting the seat that I was in.

In those few minutes, I had constructed a small web of expectation and entitlement, which gave way to irritation. The truth is, most people would think that the way this married couple spoke to me was a bit lacking in the finer shades of communication that translate as politeness. “I’m sorry, but I was wondering, would you mind my sitting in that empty seat?”

We might even think that it really would not have been so hard for either the wife or the husband to use a few extra words to acknowledge the inconvenience they were causing. What I am wondering though is why it wasn’t easier for me to initially think to myself, “It’s fair for people to move to another seat and it’s nice that this middle aged married couple wants to sit together on a long flight.”

Instead, my initial thoughts were that something that was mine was being taken from me. And this thought made me curious. I don’t think of myself as being someone who has difficulty with entitlement. I also think of myself as being helpful and generous. But like a preschool aged child who says, “mine!” when she sees someone else’s fingers grabbing for a marker, which she is not using, but is in a favorite color, I had taken ownership of seats I wasn’t using.

Children tend to say, “not fair!” when something they don’t like happens. Even if they’ve had more of their fair share of something and are asked to even things out. “Mine! Not fair!”

We don’t often notice when we have more than our fair share of something and when we do, it is usually not distressing.

I am not a little kid. I know how to take turns on the slide and share my markers. Sometimes I intentionally give myself less than my fair share of something. This has me thinking, though. It has me thinking about some of my pet peaves at home. Those tiny irritations that can accumulate into significant masses of stress. I was very excited to see my family last night after being away for five days. As soon as I walked through the door, I saw chores that needed to be done, just a few, but nonetheless things that had not gotten done while I was gone. My automatic thought was, “not fair”. But then I started commenting on the positives. My husband had gotten to the airport early because he was excited to see me. “John, thank you so much for picking me up.” “John, thank you for taking care of our daughter so I could have time away on my own.”

I started to feel calmer. I still got annoyed with some other things but I was able to get myself back on a positive plane more quickly than in the past.

Appreciation, the buffer against “mine!”, “not fair!”, and “gimme!”.

When I talk to my husband, he often doesn’t answer. This is not new to our relationship. It has been true for decades but waxes and wanes depending on his stress level.

Sometimes, he is just spacey and lost in thought. Other times, he is feeling anxious. He is very sensitive to rejection at these times. I may actually be annoyed or mad at him. I may not be mad, at all and just trying to get the business part of our lives done and coordinate household responsibilities. I am an organizer and a “big picture” person when it comes to administering a household. John is not. After many years, he asked me to start writing tasks on a “honey do” list, a little white board in our kitchen. I don’t really like doing this. I think he would be more likely to remember to do the task if he wrote it down himself. For some reason, that is something he just won’t do. He wants me to write it down. Sometimes this feels like a face saving move on his part. I wouldn’t mind writing it down if I didn’t know that a number of the things I’ve written down, stayed on that little board for years. So it filled up with tasks, most of which never got done. And every time I worked in the kitchen, I would see it and it was a visible sign of my frustration.

I hate the silence. The non-answers that could mean many different things. But even when my husband is merely lost in thought, the silence hurts. Relationship intimacy doesn’t just come with the package, it is something that must be continually nurtured and protected. It is important for marital happiness, for sexual health, and for emotional well being.

I nag, it is true. It is not a super power but I am also not an evil villain. I often feel caught between a rock and a hard place. John tells me that he is going to do a task and then he doesn’t do it. An excellent example might be doing the dishes. I’d say that between 1/3 of the times that John says he will do the dishes before he goes to bed at night, I wake up to a sink full of dishes. About half of the time, most of the dishes are done but some are either still on the dinner table or on one of the kitchen counters. And almost 100% of the time, either the table, counters, or the stove top are dirty.

If I say something, he probably won’t finish the job because he’s already gone to work. If I need to use the sink, then I need to clean it out. Later, when we are discussing dishes, because they are never to be taken for granted because they are not yet a habit, I might clarify that what I am asking is for him to do ALL of the dishes and if the kitchen stove top needs to be wiped, I expect him to wipe it. By this time, I am at my best, using a businesslike voice and at my worst I am doing nothing to conceal my annoyance.

The follow up discussions almost never go well. John feels criticized. And you know what? I am criticizing. I am complaining about the job he did. I understand why he doesn’t like it but he often communicates to me an expectation that a loving wife doesn’t ever criticize or complain. Although I don’t think he 100% believes this, it is an ideal he has and I even think he believes it to be attainable. These are the the times when my husband’s dreamy romanticism conflict with my pragmatic realism.

Relationships are full of noise. Some of it is like beautiful and romantic music. Some of it is not. Some of it is disagreement, some is problem-solving, some is negotiation. Relationships are also full of silence. But this kind of silence, the not answering with clear words but instead answering with confusing actions or lack of actions, is not helpful. These are the times when I feel that I am to match his silence with my own. And sometimes that is what I do because I have already tried to make my point and failed time and time again.

These are the time I feel silenced, that my job is to pick up after the many unfinished tasks in my household and not say a word. Just do other people’s work and carry through on other people’s promises. There are times in my life I am resigned to this. There are times in my life when I know that my husband has many other wonderful qualities that compensate for these shortcomings.

At other times, I feel alone. I feel like there is work that I have to do and for which I will never be appreciated. If I say something, I get a negative response. If I am silent, I get no response. To have to have no routine between the two of us to take care of these things is a perpetual stress to me. Routines can make life a lot easier and require a lot less higher order thinking. I would like to preserve my mental energy for things other than working and reworking the daily household routine as well as keeping track of so much of the family’s schedule. People who do not have organizational skills like this, the skills for carrying out and managing the most boring and perpetual household tasks just don’t get it. They don’t get the value they don’t get toll that it takes on the very most developed part of the human brain. My husband and I do not have a traditional marriage but my brain works like a housewife’s and his does not.

When it comes to managing my cancer, I am even more alone. And that’s one of the main reasons that I blog. I don’t need my husband to attend my appointments any more. He has no idea what my schedule is like and how it impacts the rest of my life. He can read about it here but he can’t experience it. And when I talk about the anger I feel, the fears I have, or my annoyance with the inconvenience of it, I know he gets afraid. He wants to do something. And there’s nothing for him to do but there’s a great deal he could say.

I empathize with him, really I do. I empathize with him when I don’t know what to say to one of my friends with mets, when they speak of incredible pain or fear or anger. Every once in awhile, I think I rise to the challenge and say the “right” thing. Other times, I just do my best to communicate the fact that I care. It never seems like enough but I also know that I can’t solve the problem of cancer. I can just do my best to be present. Sometimes, and I’m ashamed to admit it, I feel negative toward my friends’ cries of pain. I have thoughts like, “She must have waited too long to take her pain meds.” It doesn’t happen frequently but at those times, I understand why so many of us have lost the support of friends and family. Our brain tricks us into blaming someone with a painful and life ending disease to protect ourselves from our own helplessness and guilt. At these time, I am forced to stare at hard truths about the vulnerability of life and that fact that people I love are in excruciating pain and experience incredible isolation.

I am a loving human being. I am also flawed. I do, however, commit to keeping present with my family, my friends in face to face and cyber worlds. In our relationships, I will make noise.

 

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