The Bog of Lost Scholars

April 10, 2004

On Communication

Filed under: People, Culture, and Society — castiron @ 1:00 pm

I’m somewhat boggled by relationship advice books that say, “Ladies, don’t ever complain to your husbands about anything; don’t tell them that something bothers you; just shut up and smile and say ‘yes dear’ so they’ll feel happy.”

Keeping my mouth shut about things bothering me, especially things my ex did that bothered me, was the biggest contribution I made to the failure of my marriage.

Now, granted, judicious silence is healthy, even necessary to a thriving marriage. Most of the time, I’m glad I bit back my comments, because half an hour later I’d be saying to myself, “That was trivial and silly! Why was I making such a big deal of that?” or “Yeah, that was annoying, but you know what? I can live with it” or “Sheesh, my head was so far up my rear that I could see my esophagus; I’m glad I didn’t spout off and make a fool of myself.”

But in the cases where half an hour (or a day, or a month) later, I found myself thinking, “Okay, I’ve cooled off now, but you know what? This situation really does bother me, and I think I have good reason to be bothered”? Usually I still didn’t speak up about it. Or I’d say something, but I’d say it so diffidently and calmly that my ex wouldn’t realize that I was expressing serious displeasure, and I wouldn’t correct his perception. So of course nothing would change! And eventually I’d blow my top over the last six months of problems, which didn’t help matters either.

That’s what I find hardest about relationships. I’m a lousy communicator. I have a damn hard time saying to someone, “Sweetie, X really bugs me.” (Unless I’m so furious that I can’t repress it, in which case it’s an incoherent scattershot babble.) It’s not that I can’t put anger or annoyance into words; I can write an email to a close friend saying “dammit, that idjit did X again; it bothers me because of Y, Z, and Q”, or write in my paper journal about what’s bothering me. I’m more comfortable with writing anyway, and I can take the time to word things clearly. But speech? Ack! I’m better than I was ten years ago, granted, but that still puts me at “dismal”.

It’s somewhat true with the positives too. Unless I’m overwhelmed by loving emotion, it’s hard for me to say, “Sweetie, I really like/admire/appreciate X about you” — and if I am overwhelmed, see above-mentioned incoherency problem. And yet I have no problem writing my sister and saying “he’s so intelligent, and he’s calm, and he’s got a great sense of humor, and he tells such cool stories, and he’s done so many interesting things, and he’s good with kids in general and my son in particular, and he’s an enthusiastic dancer, and he’s reasonably musically talented, and he’s cuddly, and he smells good, and he’s willing to teach me basic car care, and he’s just so damn comfortable to be around; I really enjoy his company, and I’m very happy that we’re dating!”

(Hmm. That description sounds familiar for some reason; I couldn’t have had a specific person in mind, could I? Naaah. [Now, of course, if I did have a hypothetical specific mechanic person in mind, this would only prove my point. It’d be easier to write all this on a world-readable webpage, even knowing that said hypothetical specific person would read it at some point, than to say it to him.])

Occasionally I’ve joked to myself that I should just use email whenever I want to tell a loved one how I really feel about something. The more I think about it, the more I think I should take that seriously — if I can’t get the words out of my larynx, maybe I should let them out through my fingers instead. There’s still plenty of mistakes that I can make in a relationship, but it’d be nice to actually have learned a way to deal with this one!

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