On the phone with my boyfriend Josh, all I could think was, I’m fucking this up.
He was upset because he’d invited me to have brunch with his roommates that weekend, but wasn’t certain of the exact date and time. And during that period of uncertainty, after a glass of white wine, I made plans to go out with a friend of mine, a guy I’d had a fling with before.
When I called Josh to let him know I’d made plans for Saturday, he said, “But that’s most likely the day we’re going to do brunch. Did you even want to come?”
I wasn’t used to hearing disappointment in his voice, and I started to panic at the sound of it. “Of course! I really wanted to come to brunch. I just thought it wasn’t clear if and when it would happen, so I made other plans.”
As he asked more questions, What did you guys decide to do? Who asked who? When did you discuss this?, I tried to think of answers that would make him feel better and ease the tension.
The thing is, I wasn’t actually letting the questions sink in and thoughtfully responding. Instead, I was deflecting his words off the top of my throat, desperately saying what I thought he wanted to hear.
So he could feel better, but mostly, so I could feel better.
But this was not actually the most compassionate way to handle the situation. Maybe you’ve been in Josh’s position before. You’re confronting your lover about something he did that hurt you, and he isn’t really listening. Instead, he’s frantically trying to make you feel better without actually thinking about what you’re saying.
Don’t trust anyone in panic mode.
When I was on the phone with Josh, it felt like our whole relationship was at stake, and my words were the key to its survival.
So instead of thinking, Is everything really okay between us? Have my feelings changed? I thought, What will make him feel better? How do I get out of this?
And although this way of reacting was understandable (when you are flooded with adrenaline, it’s much harder to think straight), it was also selfish.
My goal was to remedy my own pain, calm my own nerves — not actually be honest.
When you’re having a heated talk with your partner, and you notice they look stressed and panicked, beware. Whatever they say in this state is probably not trustworthy (even if they don’t mean to lie to you).
A good partner will take a step back to reflect.
At some point during my conversation with Josh, I realized I was just spitting bullshit. I knew I was reacting to my own stress and not really responding to him.
So I stopped talking for a minute and I told him, “Let me think.” I asked myself, Is there something more to all of this? Why did I make other plans without confirming ours were not happening?
If you find yourself in Josh’s position, avoid having a real talk with your partner when you're both on edge. Your questions will likely make her more nervous and tell you more less-than-sincere things, which in turn will make you more frustrated and the cycle continues.
Instead, give her space to think about how she really feels, so she can answer thoughtfully, preferably when both of you are sober.
Ask her to acknowledge the possibility there could be a deeper more consequential problem, not just a simple misunderstanding.
This will be scary for both of you, but it must be done.
Only the truth will take your relationship where it really needs to go.
In my case, when I actually thought about Josh’s questions, I realized that I’d been feeling a little suffocated by our relationship. Josh and I had spent basically every weekend together for the last few months. And I was starting to feel an itch for independence. So when our plans become unclear, I ran with it.
Going down the path of actually considering there was a real problem terrified me.
But I knew I needed to be honest with myself. Not just for my sake but for his. Discovering the truth can cause problems in the short-run, but in the long-run, it’s for the best.
Ask your partner to take the time to reflect on their own feelings and communicate them with you, however hurtful they may be. Because if there is a real problem, it’s much better to confront it head-on, right here, right now, then let it fester and bubble until it grows much bigger and more dangerous.
By confronting my feelings, I figured out that I needed space. But I also realized I definitely still wanted to be in my relationship. And that was the only thing that really mattered when it came to us.
When Josh and I saw each other the next day, I apologized and continued to shower him with things like, I love you so much, I just want to be your girl.
And yes, these were the things he wanted to hear, but also the things I knew in my heart were as true as anything could ever be.
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