Thursday, April 9, 2015

What went wrong?

A reader asked me if I could pinpoint what went wrong with our weekend away. It got me thinking. It was definitely multifactorial, but I could think of several reasons.

1) We were both stressed and sleep deprived going into it. Both triggers for pointless arguments and hurt feelings for both of us.
2) We didn't plan the weekend. We assumed it would work itself out because last time we went away, we had an amazing time. And we only had about 24 hours when you take away driving time. But there was just more to do where we went before, this was a smaller city with no real "sight seeing" nearby. So there was a lot of time wandering around aimlessly, or sitting in the hotel room.
3) Because we didn't plan, we never took the time to discuss what each others expectations were from the trip. e.g. I brought my Kindle along and had just started a great book, but I never got to read it. I should've mentioned that I'd like an hour or so to myself to read. I also expected it to be "romantic" (whatever that means) and was disappointed that G didn't seem to be thinking that way.
4) We had planned to meet up with a friend of mine who lives there---they were trying to get a sitter to meet us for dinner but couldn't. So we thought we'd go to their house Sunday on our way home. She was flaky about that plan and kept bringing up Saturday. Long story short, she texted me at 5:30 asking if we could meet at 6 for dinner at a pizza place with their whole family. It was nearby so we headed over and got to catch up some (her kids were SO GOOD they just sat there and ate pizza with TOPPINGS and SOUP with vegetables in it while we talked). G mentioned later that he had actually been looking forward to our initial plan for sushi and was annoyed that I didn't just tell her Sunday was our only option.
5) I also had vague expectations that we'd talk about some issues with our relationship or long term plans on this trip but G didn't seem in the mood to talk about serious things. When we were having a drink at the hotel bar, he wanted to play boardgames that they had there. When we were walking, he would keep looking things up on his phone. When we got back to the hotel, he got on the floor to pet the dog instead of sitting on the bed with me (we brought the dog since we couldn't find a dogsitter) and then TURNED ON THE TV. It was driving me nuts, but yet, I never said anything...
6) I'm not good at communicating. He isn't either, but this was my fault. If I had an expectation or I wanted to talk, I should've said it. Instead I said nothing and ended up blowing up Saturday night (after 2+ rather generous glasses of wine) and STILL not telling him the real reason (I honestly can't remember WHAT I said, it was a blur). We had this stupid "fight" about nothing, I got overly emotional and teary, and the night was basically ruined, and I was angry and depressed and couldn't sleep AGAIN.

He keeps asking me to explain what happened that night and I have no real explanation other than "I went a little crazy". I know it was completely my fault. 

We did have a productive (for us) and less emotional discussion about general relationship issues the other night. I laid out the areas in which either or us was unsatisfied and we came up with some ideas for how to fix them. We'll see what happens. We both mentioned that it seems like we have this SAME discussion every 6 months or so, and nothing ever changes. We should probably do a check-in in a month or so to make sure we are on track, instead of waiting until next October for the blow up.

I stumbled upon a forum discussion the other day (looking for something COMPLETELY different, about IRAs) about what makes people's amazing relationships so amazing. It was really eye-opening. Nothing anyone said was NEW, per se, but it led me to a realization. Amazing relationships are based on inherent compatibility of two people's personalities (unchangeable) and certain "relationship skills" (in part, changeable). The whole debate over whether or not relationships should be "hard work"---the answer depends entirely on whether the couple is lucky/smart enough to be completely compatible. If so, there are minimal conflicts and minimal need to "work on" things. When conflicts do come up, if both people know how to deal with conflict effectively, it also feels less like "work". This includes things like: not getting too emotional---dealing with things logically, communication skills, lack of defensiveness, ability to be open/vulnerable, using humor, empathy.

Where does this leave us? G and I are somewhat compatible. There are a few areas, though, that I wish we were more in sync with. We have to actively work on those areas---requiring compromise on both sides---so each others needs get met. We both have TERRIBLE relationship skills. So trying to navigate these issues becomes a minefield of defensiveness, tears, hurt feelings...and that's when we are able to move past the initial MO of avoidance.

I already KNEW all this on some level, but I'm seeing it more objectively, as a third party looking into our relationship. I see where we were (a really great place), where we are now (not so great) and how we got here (another story for another time), and I actually feel like I have a benchmark for where I want us to be (as opposed to my vague former wishes for "better"). I slept really well last night.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bright Spots

Even the grayest days have some bright moments. I think they stand out more, in their stark contrast, and I try really hard to notice them, to say to myself "this is a good moment". An island in time where the anxiety is gone, thinking about yesterday and tomorrow subsides, and I can just be happy. It may be 5 minutes, or an hour, but it makes the rest of the day easier to get through.

Consistent bright spots:
  • Being outside in nice weather
  • Being outside with the kids in at least halfway-decent weather (the park!)
  • Snuggling with L (he's my cuddly one)
  • Watching the kids play together
  • Finishing a tough workout
  • Finishing a tough project (taxes, a presentation)
  • A good book
A lot of these things, I have no control over. I can't control the weather (FFS, its 40 and rainy today) or my kids' moods. But I can try to get outside when it IS nice, or take the time to hold L in my lap in the morning even if it means being 5 minutes late. I can decide not to waste my evening folding laundry or aimlessly on the internet and pick up a book. I can decide to go to the gym even when I'm really not feeling it, knowing I'll feel better after, or sitting down and tackling the thing hanging over my head even when tomorrow always seems to be the better time. 

I noticed that my list doesn't contain the superficial things I usually think of as "treats" that I try to give myself when I'm feeling down---no good food, glass of wine, TV show, new clothes. I guess those things are mere distractions, and don't really heal the problem.

I'd like to add more to this list---and then fill my life as full as I can with these moments---its nice to know how I can control my happiness to some extent.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Scream Becomes a Yawn

We went away for the weekend, leaving kids with grandma. It was nothing I thought it would be for reasons I can't explain. Instead of being romantic and fun and relaxing, it was tense and boring and exhausting. It didn't help that we were both sleep-deprived and stressed going into it---G was coming down with something, and stayed up 'til 2AM on Friday finishing up work. I haven't slept well in about 2 weeks. It all bubbled up in an ugly and unproductive way. Of all the conversations I'd planned for us to have, the only one we actually had was the one that made it clear without a doubt that we were not having any more children and that I should schedule the IUD I was waffling about next month.

I was relieved when it was time to go home so I could give up the pretense of "having fun". We promised the kids we would buy them a present but could find nothing in the city except overpriced magnets, T-shirts and hats so we stopped by the-big-box-store-that-we-don't-go-to on the drive home and B got them kites.

I was thrilled. They were simple and colorful. It was perfect kite-flying weather---sunny, warm but windy! We got home and immediately took the boys to the park to fly them. All the kids at the park gathered around wanting a turn, all the dads gathered round with advice on how to fly them.

Within 30 minutes they were broken. Later that night, we were assessing the damage, and decided we could reinforce the hole where the stick poked through by sewing a few rows of threat onto it. We tried to rewind the string but there were complicated knots that were impossible to untangle.

That's how I feel these days. In knots that I can't untangle. Everything seems to be piling up into a perfect storm of anxiety, insomnia and dread. Its my mother-in-law still being here (day 16/21 today), and the fact that things always escalate before she leaves, its being on call this week, being hopelessly behind on 8 million things at work, a paper rejected from FOUR journals in a row, a grant around the one project I was excited about rejected, my tech and research coordinator leaving in 3 months, my funding ending in 14 months, second thoughts about our kindergarten choice,  realizing I really truly have no friends to talk to or hang out with right now, the constant rehashing of the same old problems in my relationship 10 years into our marriage, the projects in the house, the travel coming up that I haven't finished planning, the fact that my drawers are a jumble of 80% crap I never wear and 20% stuff too wrinkly to wear all jammed in there and no time to sort it out, the finality of not having any more babies, the thought of the IUD insertion and the pain that may be involved, the many red rows in our budget and no idea how to cut back, and the fact that therapy does not seem to be doing much for my anxiety 6 months into it.

Oh and the not sleeping.

Most of this stuff will work itself out. I just needed to get it off my chest. I'll shut up and carry on*.

*song lyrics NOT from the early 90s!