Within half an hour of getting to her house I stepped out of the bathroom and told her, “I just don’t understand why sometimes everything you say from the moment I see you just feels discordant to me.” I just didn’t like the way she told me about her day. The way she presented her thoughts just frustrated me, and something about the tone of her voice; it’s so naively singsongy.
She said, “I could tell you were getting triggered. I was afraid to tell you that I didn’t feel productive today because I know you value productivity so much.”
I said, “I don’t think it was the fact that you weren’t productive; I wasn’t productive today either. It was just how you said it that hit me the wrong way.” I sat down with her on the couch. This was the fourth straight day of just really getting triggered by about everything she said. Four days ago was the deadline she had given me to decide, after two years, am I in or am I out.
She eventually could read between the lines and concluded, “It sounds like you just don’t like my personality very much.”
“Sometimes,” I corrected. “Like I’m sure you don’t enjoy mine sometimes. I know I delight in you very much sometimes.” But the more I thought about it, that really felt like the heart of the matter. I just didn’t like the way she thought or said things very often.
The last time I had been triggered like this, everything else we did after this got really ugly and I just got triggered more. It looked like this. I had feelt triggered by everything she said since I got there, and then I tried to show her the 3-D model dream house I designed that we could live in together. She asked “So, where’s the living room” twice, and the way she mentioned the landing it made me think she though it was supposed to represent the second level (which was super small and only half as high as a second floor would have been), and then she asked how would you get to this bathroom (where to me there was an obvious clear walking path to it). With that last one I just finally broke and asked her why she didn’t understand this stuff. Then in a valiant attempt to rescue the night she suggested we play a game where you read cards with deep questions to get to know each other. We tried but like 8 out of 10 of her answers were triggering to me. The card I remember was “What was a value your parents instilled into you.” She said, “Honesty.” I said, “Cool, how did that show up?” She replied, “They told us not to steal and stuff.” When she saw I was so triggered she said to tell her why one of them triggered me. I told her the stealing one bothered me because if your parents taught you honesty, why did you say that meant they told yo not to steal. Those seem fairly different to me. (The very next day I noticed a friend of mine equate the two when we were talking, and I realized my error.)
She said, “I just don’t know, Ross. I just don’t know what to do.” And we parted ways for the night, very discouraged, shortly after that.
This time felt similar. So instead of just trying to do another activity, I said, maybe I should just go to your room to get some alone time for a bit.
During this ten minutes I tried to remind myself of the good things about her, but could only remember things that bothered me. Eventually I just told myself just go out there, not caring about the outcome, and just have fun.
It seemed to work. The rest of the night was fun (we do fun together well), despite the residual unrest I felt from earlier.
Had a conversation with my brother today. He has a little bit of a difficult wife. Well, at least he told me he gets angry easily. There is a similarity to my life; we get stuck in our downstairs brains, where our instincts rule. His solution is he has to take a break for a while until his anger has subsided and he’s able to think rationally with his upper brain again. Then he comes to the table with actionable suggestions for his wife in a patient tone. That usually helps, he says.
Sounds like taking a break can be a big help.