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:
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.