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.


  1. Good luck!

    I definitely think communication skills (especially the realizing nobody can read minds part) and trust are key to having a relaxed relationship. When I read "Crucial Conversations" I realized that my DH does all those things it recommends automatically, and so does his dad. But they can definitely be learned. (And having to navigate sharing a single room with a roommate in high school and college definitely helped to get those skills, plus we had to teach them to the freshmen when we were Resident Assistants in grad school.)

    1. so many people have mentioned that book to me. I just bought it. I can mange conversations at work (you can imagine I have hard conversations frequently) but at home the EMOTIONS get in the way and I just get stuck.

    2. I think it takes practice and repetition. With me I have more emotions at work so when I know I'm going to have one of those hard conversations I have to think really hard about things like "what is the goal of this?" "how do I make the other person feel safe?" Much of the time, though, I'm too lazy. But when I make an effort, their recommendations actually do work.

      With work, the part about reminding everybody that we really do have the same ultimate goals (which are generally lofty) helps a lot, as does coming up with the nicest possible story explaining people's bizarre actions. Sometimes the other person starts to believe that nice story rather than what their original true motivation was, so it becomes true! Also I've found addressing people's assumptions head on to be helpful in the past too. But it does take practice and thinking in advance and so on. A lot of it though is just giving people benefit of the doubt (even when they don't necessarily deserve it).

      It is definitely much easier to do when you don't need to do it (because there aren't miscommunication problems and the other person gives the benefit of the doubt and there aren't emotional landmines)!

  2. I'm glad you finally slept! I admire the insight you have had into your relationship. I certainly could take a page or two from your book, and try to step back and see things a bit more objectively. You've given me some things to think about... so thank you!

  3. That's such an interesting theory about the 2 things needed for an amazing relationship. I'd say K and I have very little inherent compatibility. We're opposites in so many ways. However, we both have strong relationship skills. We know we need to compromise, we keep the big picture in mind, we're willing to talk through things. I'd say we are happy overall. It does lead to a relationship with a lot of work, though. To me, it just seems normal, as it's the only long-term relationship I've been in.

  4. Wow. I have SO MANY THINGS to say about, well, everything here. Seriously, I just need to call you.

    First of all, I feel like your entire replay of the weekend away could be taken from various nights/weekends away with my husband. Every single one of those things has happened to me/us. I think they happen less now because I've learned from past mistakes, but I still mess up sometimes, as does my husband, and we reprise our common mishaps.

    I'm also intrigued by what makes a marriage work. I am realizing, more and more as we try to raise kids together, that my husband and I are SO different. Actually, I feel like we are different in most ways and then the few ways we're similar are actually detrimental (like we both easily take on the other person's mood, so if one of us is pissed off the other people absorbs that and then projects it back out again, it's awesome). I guess there are a few ways were different that are good, like I'm more emotional and he's more calm, and I think he's taught me to stay more grounded when we have heated discussions and I've learned that he can stay really calm and still care (I used to think his lack of emotions meant he wasn't invested). I think we have some good relationship skills (my husband more so than me, or better said, in the moment he is more skillful but as far as long term working on weakness, I am more skillful, or just more willing to do the work).

    I have a friend at work who seems to be in the perfect marriage (they don't have kids ;) and when I asked her once if she and her husband ever fought she said they didn't. I just stood there, mouth agape. She went on to explain why they never fought but I still couldn't believe it (even though I suspected as much). I have never been as envious of another person's relationship as I am of hers. And yes, I'm sure she has issues she hasn't mentioned to me, but I can tell from what she has said that they are a lot happier with each other than my husband and I are (or ever were--we've always fought).

    I'm intrigued by the crucial conversations book. This is the third time I've heard about it so I think I need to bite the bullet and just get it. I could use the advice both at work and at home.

    I'm trying to read John Gottman's Seven Principals that Make a Marriage Work, which I bought years ago and then didn't finish (I think I only started it) but I need to finish my library book first because it's due soon. I have to admit, I'm having a hard time getting excited about reading up on ways to help our marriage when my husband NEVER does that kind of stuff. Why should I always been the one putting in the work? Does he just not care? Ugh. I know he does but he shows it in all the ways I need to work to recognize. Just one more way we are incompatible--our love languages don't match up at all.

    1. Here's our review of Crucial Conversations:

      A funny thing-- in the back of the newer edition, there's thoughts from the authors, and one of them talks about how people come up to him saying how they got so much out of the book, and it turns out they've only read the intro and the first chapter. Which really do encapsulate their methodologies.

    2. "i'm having a hard time..." YES. That's why I've never read nor plan to read any book that's "marriage specific"---the Crucial Conversations book seems helpful in ALL settings (including professionally) so I don't have that feeling. I actually went to a professional development session on negotiating issues/giving feedback that was super helpful at work and at home. Communication=communication regardless of the setting and is more a life skill than a marriage skill, I guess.

    3. It's one I could definitely use more practice one. Some things I've been practicing enough that they come automatically (coming up with alternative stories for people's bad behavior), but most stuff still takes effort.

  5. I used to get the Crucial Conversations newsletter. What I think is valuable about the approach is helping you to feel good about the way you frame the conversation. What it DOESN'T do is help you with what you do when things don't go the way you hope. That is, when resolution isn't a possible outcome. You can't change someone else; you can only change your perspective.

    I also have trouble communicating with my husband. And we have the same non-conversations. I have to want to work at it, because otherwise it won't change. And right now, I am not feeling the energy to work on it. :(

    1. you and me both my friend. we haven't said a word to each other that was not about household maintenance since I wrote this post. just collapsing to sleep at the end of each day.

  6. Ugh, it's the worst when rare date nights or date weekends go awry. It's so much worse than just arguing in the living room at home because of all the effort that it took to make it happen. We had one date night during a vacation that we wound up fighting the whole time over whether the kids should get allowances. It managed to blow up landmines for both of us.