That’s how the day started, a command as I was doing some last-minute surfing before recording an early-morning interview for the podcast. We had 20 minutes to go before our call, and I was watching the weepy and sentimental Westjet Christmas video everyone was raving about on Facebook. It had 2 minutes to go, and I was already tearing up.
“Just a sec…I’m finishing this video.”
Warren said it again, but louder this time: “You need to eat now. You always forget to eat, and then you get bitchy!”
Hmmm. That was a little forceful for 7:40 a.m.
I paused the video and looked over at him, wondering where this was coming from. Anyone who knows me knows I never forget to eat – ever. And if I ever were to voluntarily skip a meal, it would certainly not be breakfast.
Something else was up, and he wasn’t getting to it fast enough.
I reminded him I’d managed to feed myself every day for 43 years, thankyouverymuch, and what’s it to him when I eat my bowl of cereal?
As you can imagine, seasoning this exchange with a little bit of snark did not make it better.
Things went rapidly downhill, and by the time our call was ready to start we were yelling at each other about breakfast, the podcast, chores, and sex. All that in 17 minutes.
It’s a good thing we had the interview scheduled or we would have kept fighting for hours.
Nothing Turns to Something
Afterward we laced up our shoes to walk to town for market day. It was still tense, but at least we weren’t yelling anymore.
The last thing I wanted to do was walk for 45 minutes with Warren, but if I wanted veggies and eggs for the week I had to. Ugh.
I knew he was going to rehash it all.
He keeps nothing in his head. It all comes tumbling out of his mouth to be made sense of later, which I think is messy and a waste of time. Mine all stays in my head to be made sense of before I speak it, which drives him nuts because it takes too long to solve a problem and doesn’t involve both of us.
He’s white-hot, heating up in a moment and dropping into a bucket of ice soon after. I’m more of a slow build, and it takes a long time for my fire to turn to ash.
As you can see, this is a recipe for turning a molehill into a mountain.
But I could tell he was upset about something, even though I had no clue what it might be. It just seemed like he was being a controlling asshole to me. I tried to set aside my own anger to find out what was bugging him, but there was a limited supply of patience on hand.
I started asking questions on our walk. “What do you think spurred the fight this morning? You’re really wound up about something, and I don’t think it was my breakfast.”
“I don’t know.”
I tried again, “Was it something that came up in your writing this morning?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Are you worried about money?”
Nope. Nada. Nil. It was like drawing blood from a stone. Every question was answered in the same way. And since my normal inclination is to not talk about problems without first carefully dissecting them in my own brain first, this little bit of resistance from him gave me permission to do what I most wanted to do.
Be quiet. Just walk. Stay in my own head. Think about all the ways I was better than Warren because he was being so unreasonable. Asshole. Why was he going to ruin this beautiful day? If he can’t tell me what’s bothering him, then he can just stew on it.
And then Warren got mad because I wouldn’t help him figure out the problem.
What do you mean? I AM trying to help, and you’re blocking me at every turn!
Anger Blocks Understanding
I stopped to yell at him and that’s when I noticed the look on his face: this man with the internal GPS who always knows where he is and where he’s going is lost. He is grappling internally with something unfamiliar, and he doesn’t know which way to go.
How scary must that be for someone who is normally so certain about everything in his life?
The anger fell away in that moment, and it scares me to think how easily I could have missed his pain by focusing on the mild annoyance it gave me.
Our rule is that we only fight about one subject at a time, and it’s a good rule. But sometimes when you’re all churned up inside it’s hard to get it out on the first try, and fighting about dumb things like breakfast happens on the way to the main event.
Next time I’ll make sure the warmup is over before we start swinging.
Find out what else we’re fighting about in the behind-the-scenes videos from the writing of our next book, The 24/7 Relationship: How We Live, Work, and Travel Together (Without Killing Each Other).