Cold snaps hit the South extra hard, because we are not expecting them. Our bodies react like a corrected teenager.
Our bedroom is behind the kitchen, across from the back door. So when my husband started to come in, then decided to let the dog in from the yard, he opened a wind tunnel directly onto our bed.
Instead of indulging the flash of anger I felt, or squelching it and adding it to the pile, I chose a middle ground of saying something I thought was non-confrontational.
I got zero response.
I tried again, but I could see the steel door behind his eyes had closed.
Most of the time, my man is good at communication. When he becomes stoic it’s because he’s tired, or upset, or feels attacked. Specifically by me. He has this infuriating habit of seeing the best in people who don’t deserve it, then playing dumb when I’m upset about something.
The first few times scared me silly. My passionate, articulate husband turns on a dime and becomes the embodiment of his shadow self. He is abruptly distant and unresponsive. My normally attentive and caring friend has sat staring blankly at me while I cried.
I felt like I was taking crazy pills.
I have a low tolerance for crazy-making malarkey because I have dealt with it for far too long in the past. I specifically chose this man because everything about his life told me that he was as fed up with that crap as I was.
Turns out, maybe even more so.
After the first few times seeing this transformation I couldn’t reconcile how at odds these spells seemed with who I know him to be, with how he wants to be. How later on he would say things like, “I understood what you were saying and I wanted to talk to you, I just couldn’t.”
And in a flash I saw it was a defense mechanism. All his life he’s had someone close to him jerking him around mercilessly. Authority figures, girlfriends, an ex-wife who saw arguing as a sign of affection. That steel door slams down as protection from a world that has been almost unbearably cruel to one who feels it all so deeply.
I know not everyone subscribes to personality classifications, but reading about my Meyers-Briggs type has brought me a lot of solace. To think that the way my mind works is a recognized method, rather than something I need to struggle against.
That my habit of trying other people’s perspectives on for size doesn’t necessarily indicate a weakness in my own. That maybe being tuned into other people is a feature, not a bug.
This is helpful to remember when I feel compelled to address something with someone and they agree but don’t do anything about it. Or attack me for poking a soft spot. Or when I’m having a moment of my own and there’s no one to walk me through it.
Or when I do my best to be cool and he shuts down anyway.
I spent years tiptoeing around another man’s feelings, a man who I’m pretty sure had undiagnosed mental health issues and whose mood I could not help. By comparison, my husband appreciates me almost more than I can take.
But in those few moments when he’s flawed and hurt in his own right, his icy moodiness rubs me just exactly the wrong way.
So my immediate reaction is righteous indignation. Followed quickly by epic despair as my parental-induced terror of emotional abandonment kicks in. At this point, it’s just embarrassing how quickly I spin out. I run and hide if I can. Usually, there’s not much to do but ride it out.
And sometimes, a flash of inspiration sparks between the clouds.
“I don’t want to be hurt like this. Isn’t there a way to avoid this?” I had to admit that only if he did some serious work, and I can’t make him do that.
“So should I keep my distance?” The idea of pushing him away is very painful. And anyway, aren’t I supposed to accept him for who he is? Isn’t that how this is supposed to work?
“So, I just have to accept that this is going to happen sometimes??” Well yeah, relationships hurt sometimes. Welcome to the world.
Oh shit, I am wallowing in nothing.
I’m pretty convinced this man honestly loves me. That’s impressive because I don’t really believe most people even genuinely like me. Sometimes I get some weird mixed signals from him but, when I can glimpse beyond my own insecurities, I’m noticing a pattern. He has some indirect communication habits that sometimes border on misdirection.
Habits developed from decades of dealing with, living with and relying on people who were just as likely to screw him over.
I’m not the only bright spot, but we are outnumbered by the shitheads. The best thing for me to do is to use my insight to control what I can (myself) and maintain my balance better in these moments.
But sometimes it’s extremely hard. My mother isn’t talking to me at all anymore. I’m pushing against a boulder of rage and regret that’s going to take a while to break down. Hubs is having a hard time lately too, but it’s sinking in just how unfair it might be for me to expect others to think like I do.
And sometimes even good people are hurt and lash out. Or shut down. People are mercurial and it’s not my fault. Sometimes, relationships hurt. And that’s okay.