At lunch, Kate says: “Your voice in the Instagram video sounds slow.”
Chewing pea tendrils and salad greens, I wince squint: “Slow?”
She nods. “Slow. Like you’re speaking soo slowly.”
I wipe egg yolk off my mouth. “I didn’t think it’s slow. Lemme get the phone and play it.” I get up and then point my finger back at her, “Seeee. The first thing you said about my stuff was negative.”
Until now, the day was blue and sunny. But the pretty baby sky faded, swallowed by ursula grey. The wooden floor quivered, plates clank-rattled on the table. Avoiding eye contact, Kate stands up. Steam is surging from her ears. The words come out with black smoke and thunder. She sears: “Okay, whatever. Because I never say anything positive. Never support you. I can never say anything right.”
Holding the baby in one hand, I try to remain reasonable and level-headed. I say “What? Kate seriously. Can you sit down?” And then I unintentionally launch the counter-nuclear strike: “Are you crabby today.”
From the kitchen, “You don’t want to talk. You just want to criticize me.”
I wide-eyed look at the baby and whisper, “Mom’s mad. Mom’s very mad.”
(Yes yes major bias disclaimer. But hey: my blog, my story.)
Two years ago, we saw a marriage therapist every other week. Talked with Cathy for several months. Learned a lot. For example, when it comes to discussing my writing, I have super sensitive skin. Not with peers or the general public, just with Kate. This sensitivity means Kate walks on egg-shells. She feels like she has to censor herself. And her mind spins this as ‘Ryan’s trying to control me by forbidding me from saying what I think.’ And since controlling men is a major Kate trigger, this is bad news bears for us as a couple. The two trigger points feed into and exacerbate one another.
The therapist helped us develop some crude communication guidelines. Like, if I ask for Kate’s opinion, then I need to be fully prepared to hear it—good or bad. Otherwise I shouldn’t ask. Or, if she gets angry, then it’s acceptable for her to leave the room (or the house) as long as she communicates why she’s leaving and some reasonable time frame for her planned return to the conversation.
Over the months of therapy, we made progress, then relapsed. Progressed, relapsed. The same kind of argument kept occurring. Different details, but same basic beast. In session, at a moment of frayed frustration, the therapist reminded us—and pointed to countless marriage psychologists who support her proposition— that for some couples, there will be spots of unconquerable tension that remain for the entirety of the marriage. For example, Kate might always be more lackadaisical with time and money; I might always be anal with punctuality and a cheapass. And these polarities may now and forever more chafe against each other. Humor, she said, can dissolve the maddening ego-bound War on The Bad Spouse. Perspective can too. The recognition that Kate is partially the product of her parents, who are the product of their parents, etc. Same with me.
Mid-way through The Battle of Your Voice Sounds Slow, I thought to myself: oh my god, she’s out of her goddamn mind. I thought: seriously, I’ve made mistakes in the past. Been at fault in conflicts, but I’m guiltless here. This is all her. I am working with a negative nancy spouse and the best I can do is pray for her. Lol.
In the Reconciliation Phase of The Battle, I felt differently. I was like okay I can see from your shoes how my reaction to your potentially harmless slow comment could be really frustrating, given my historical hyper-sensitivity. The Communication Chasm had been bridged.
So. Progress pending relapse is still progress. In a generation or two, once we have those Google Pixel headphones the translate languages in real time, there will be no communication mishaps. We’ll all be on the same page. And these Marital World Wars will be a civilizational relic of the Old World.
#altdad #diary #marriage #communication #therapy #monday #sensitiveskin #amwriting #empathy #war
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