Communication, Part One

From Traci’s journal, February 16, 2009:

It’s hard to understand even the simplest of things. Communication is key. I have to understand what people are trying to convey to me. Especially those closest to me.

My relationship with Traci seemed to soar on the wings of angels for our first few years. Everyone could see we were in love. We wrote notes for each other and left them where they would be found later, when we were apart. I believe Traci started it, with notes that she wrote for me when I went away on a trip, and we continued throughout our time together to express fondness and appreciation for each other in both handwritten notes and email messages.

Not that it was always rainbows and butterflies. Traci had two very different personalities I came to refer to as Screeching Crow and Cooing Dove. She liked those descriptions and referred to them herself.

For five years, we never fought. We had disagreements, but neither of us felt so strongly about an issue that we weren’t ready to compromise. Even when we couldn’t resolve an argument through words, one of us would often say something funny, whether intentional or not, and we’d both end up laughing and forgetting what we had disagreed on.

But not this one morning. It was the spring of 2009. At that time, Traci worked in the mess hall kitchen at the local military training base, a job which required her to get up and leave early in the morning. Because of her epilepsy, in which almost all of her seizures occurred within a half-hour of waking, she needed to wake up slowly and gently, and wait at least 30 minutes before getting out of bed. Usually I would get myself up at the same time and go downstairs to prepare a light breakfast and bring it up to share with Traci before she went to work.

This was a rough morning for both of us. I’m going to take you back in time with me via my journal entry for that morning, slightly edited:

This morning I woke at 4 a.m. after less than 5 hours sleep. I went downstairs, prepared breakfast and brought it up, then went back downstairs to clean up a pile of wet dog shit in the kitchen. Apparently he has worms, which might have been prevented if we’d had an extra $25 this past week to get him de-wormed. With a little bit more we could have bought cigarettes too … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After I finish cleaning up I come back to bed. Traci sits beside me, reading, for a couple of minutes. I stroke her back. She says she likes it. Shortly after that, she gets up – time for her to go to work. She turns her light out. I say, “Can I have a kiss?” Here’s what I get back, in her harshest Screeching Crow voice: “Yes, it’s dark, just hold on a minute!” She turns the ceiling lights on, then says, still harshly, “And now you’ve got a big smile on your face?” (I think it might have been a smile meant to convey affection, but anyway …) Not much feeling in the kiss that came after that. It felt like I’d been punched in the heart, so the kiss was no consolation.

Next, she’s looking for her cigarettes. Can’t find them, nor is there any money in the house or any left in the bank account. It’s two days before her new job’s first pay is deposited, so I tell her to use her Visa card, which she thinks is a bad idea. She leaves in a bad mood, and I’m left here wondering, not sleeping, wondering what the hell just happened.

Later that day, I receive a heartfelt apology from her by email. (Sadly, I haven’t been able to find that email.) She acknowledged her mistake in treating me as she did that morning, expressing her appreciation of me and dismay at her own behaviour. In my next journal entry, I wrote, “The fact that she acknowledges when she’s done wrong and doesn’t let her ego stand in the way of doing the right thing, is another reason why I love her.”

All couples, no matter how happy they may seem, are going to have fights and disagreements. If you’re fortunate, as Traci and I were, you may be together for years before having your first major argument, but it will happen.

The key isn’t to avoid arguments at all costs. That can put you into a state of denial and tip-toeing around each other to avoid emotional distress and pain. If you keep stuffing down hurt feelings or denying your own perspective on a situation, you are opening yourself up to greater unhappiness and distress down the road. Might as well get things out in the open in an air of mutual respect and desire to resolve your disagreement.

Maybe prior to that morning, Traci and I had coasted for a while, and there were things she at least needed to get out in the open that she hadn’t yet. Even if her own frustration at finding a decent-paying job that she could stay in for a while was what was eating at her that morning, it would have been better if we’d had a chance to talk that through before her repressed feelings exploded to the surface the way they did.

I’ve thought a lot about the importance of effective communication between partners in a relationship. Traci and I had worked a lot of things out through talking, but she was still saying we needed to improve in our communications with each other. I guess it’s like playing a game where someone keeps moving the goal posts. You may score a few points, but if you’re going to win the game you need to keep moving to keep up with the target.

This is an important topic. To Traci it might have been the most important. I’ve had it on my mind for months to write about it, yet I kept putting it off, and now I realize it will take up at least two blog posts.

Through many talks and experiences with Traci, I learned that effective communication is the key to a long, happy, mature relationship. In my opinion, the basic principles of effective communication are:

1. Listen
2. Reflect
3. Respond

In my next post I will elaborate on these principles and share a few things I learned during my time with Traci that I hope will be helpful to my readers.

Comments, as always, are welcome and appreciated.

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34 thoughts on “Communication, Part One

      • Indeed it is! I am most sorry for your loss! How tragic to have loved and lost so much! I miss the part of me that wrote love notes. hmmmmm amazing some of the things we lose of ourselves without even realizing that we have lost them!

  1. My husband and I have a method to prevent prolonging arguments. “Never go to sleep without clearing misunderstandings ; anger or disagreements : It has worked !!

  2. Pingback: Communication, Part One | birdmanps

  3. Very beautifully… the essence of the institution called marriage and companionship… explained so well. Congrats for communicating with us, too :) Love and regards to both of you. XOXO

  4. Pingback: Communication, Part One « Let's Talk…

  5. Pingback: Communication, Part Two | Valley Road Rambler

  6. Hi Doug/Dig. I love your site, and this post is so important and so vital to today’s issues and our apparent lack of ability to communicate well — if at all.

    First, though, please accept my deep sympathy for your very painful loss. My husband and I celebrate our 50th anniversary Friday, Nov. 9,~~ probably more IN SPITE of our ability to communicate well rather than because of it ~~ and the thought of losing him is something that has haunted me since, actually, before we even were married. So I truly empathize with your loss and you have accomplished a wonderful tribute to Traci while helping others. No small feat.

    Initially, I began this to explain why YOUR article appears on MY site WITHOUT attribution to you. I’ve been fighting my WP site for some time now as I’ve worked on an avenue by which to engage people in communication on a regular basis. However, I stay so frustrated it just hasn’t happened.

    I used the “Press this” function to use it on my site, but instead, it looks as if I wrote it. I’m definitely not trying to take credit for your wonderful piece; although, I DID get a very nice comment from someone who really enjoyed YOUR work.

    I will try to fix this quickly as I definitely want to follow you.The “Valley Road Rambler” resonates very well with my Let’s Talk…” and I have a real appreciation for you and your work.

    .

    • Hi Edwina,

      Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments. No worries about posting a link to my blog post. Since it works as a link to my site, I have no worries about it being misattributed, and anyway I put these things out there to share in any way people feel the desire to do. (For future reference though, WordPress has an easy Reblog function. When you are on a post that you like (not the blog’s home home page), you will find a button at the top of the page labelled “Reblog”. That sends the post to your blog but WordPress also gives you the option to add an introduction at the same time. I’ve done that a couple of times and it seems to work fine.

  7. Pingback: Page not found | Valley Road Rambler

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  9. Pingback: priority, accuracy, and mere sincerity- a letter to Lucy « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  10. Pingback: Communication, Part Two (Re-run) | Valley Road Rambler

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