Carol and I were sitting on the couch the other evening, both of us reading quietly. I reached over to give her an affectionate rub on the shoulder and asked, "Do you love me?" Without looking up her immediate reply was, "What do you want?" I was stunned by her response to my sweet, gentle question and decided to ditch my follow-up query regarding her willingness to get up and bring me a bowl of ice cream.
Lately we find ourselves in the midst of a mild "failure to communicate," mostly about mundane issues but pushing us just enough off-track to lead to some occasional friction. A few weeks ago we were heading out for dinner; I was ready and cooling my heels while waiting for Carol to get dressed. "How about this?" she solicited. Since I'm familiar with her wardrobe I didn't need to look before replying, "Adorable. Let's go." She stared at me and muttered, "... asshole..." under her breath before heading back to her closet. I was offended by her accusation. Well, I feigned offense but that’s pretty much the same response, isn't it?
I was assembling a piece of furniture and was flummoxed (as I often am) by a set of unhelpful instructions. I made a series of false starts and mis-steps, and each time as I recognized the latest snafu I exclaimed, "Oh my GOD!" in frustration. Carol kept asking if she could help me. After her sixth or seventh offer of assistance, I again replied "No" and added, "Please don't ask, 'Can I help you?' every time you hear me say in exasperation, 'Oh my GOD!'" I returned to my task, then paused and added, "Conversely -- if you hear me ask, 'Can you help me?' please don't reply with an exasperated 'Oh my GOD!'" I don't think she embraced my clarification in the spirit with which it was intended.
We were in the car, headed for a destination Carol was familiar with but I wasn't. Since I was behind the wheel I asked her to provide navigation. As we drove along one stretch of road, Carol said something about a sign up ahead which may have implied an imminent change in direction, but since I was passionately singing along to "Carry On Wayward Son" on the radio I wasn't paying attention to her at that moment (a more considerate person would have provided guidance during one of the numerous instrumental interludes). She then began to shout and gesture frantically as I nearly sped past where we needed to bear left. I slammed on the brakes, spinning the wheel and fishtailing in a manner reminiscent of Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Once I'd corrected course and returned to my side of the road, I reminded her of my preference for timely directions offered in advance rather than this tumultuous last-second, arm-waving, shouting-laden approach. While I initially thought she was quietly contemplating my observation before offering an apology, I was distressed when her silence continued for the rest of our drive and in fact the remainder of the day. How ironic there was no peace when we were done with our trip.
Of course there are guidelines couples should follow to ensure effective communication. We are acquainted with them but sometimes find ourselves just not up to making the proactive effort required, falling back on bad habits and then suffering through the consequences as a result. When Carol fails to express herself appropriately, I gently admonish her and then thoughtfully point out what she should have said differently. Lately, however, Carol isn't embracing these as "teachable moments" and instead seems to feel I'm being chauvinistic and condescending toward her, while portraying myself as beyond reproach. Well, I really can't control how she chooses to respond (another guideline for effective communication between partners), so I've learned to give her the space she needs regardless of how much it wounds my soul. While it's proving to be a tiresome burden it's one I bear with minimal complaint since -- at their core -- these contretemps are transitory and insignificant and in no way interfere with our deep and abiding love for one another.
But oh my GOD if Carol doesn't bring me a bowl of ice cream one evening soon I am going to lay my weary head to rest.