I am sitting outside with friends over happy hour, empty margarita glasses scattered around the table. We talk about relationships. “I’m told all relationships move through periods of break and repair, like a cycle” I offer.
“I think life is like that: conditions present themselves, we adapt…conditions, adapt and on an on,” a dear friend offers, flagging the server for another round. I nod, recalling my most recent “opportunity” to adapt to changing conditions – a huge break, a.k.a. misunderstanding, with my partner. And as per my highly sensitive self – I am completely frozen in an a full on emotional spin out. I go through the motions of my workday, I feed the cats, I go for a run, I meet a friend for lunch, but underneath my robotic exterior I can barely breathe. I replay our argument over and over, and the worst phrase you can ever hear in an argument sticks like glue in my gut, “It’s not a big deal." Gulp. I can’t unhear it. I don’t know how to interpret it anyway other than “I don’t care how you feel."
By the end of the day I've had 60 imaginary conversations with my partner, all of them ending with us being incompatible, breaking up, splitting up the cats, and renting a U-Haul to move out. I am emotionally spent and have lost all sense of who I am. I climb into bed, meditate, and read. As my body finally begins to relax it occurs to me that I do know who I am. I put down my book, glancing up. I know exactly who I am. I am compassionate, I am light, I am kind, I am funny, I am brave. I’m the same person I was before the argument. I feel a little lighter. Then I recall advice I heard from a therapist years ago: Get really clear on what it is that you really want. I want her to understand me. No, that’s still dependent on her. What do I want? I want to feel understood. Ok, closer. What do I really want? I want us to communicate in a way that we hear each other. Something loosens in my chest. I want to be able to communicate in a way that we hear and support each other’s needs. There it is.
The heaviness in my heart lifts and I take a deep breath. As I hear my partner’s keys in the door and the routine plopping of her workbag on the counter, I am reminded that I know my partner too. And what I know is that she does care about how I feel. And that when we have a break, it’s usually a misinterpretation of what was said. For a moment I imagine how I’d feel if “It’s not a big deal,” didn’t mean “I don’t care,” but actually meant “I don’t understand what’s happening right now or why you’re upset." I take deep breaths as I hear my partner climbing the stairs to our bedroom. I can’t help but wonder if part of repair is coming back to ourselves first. Maybe the fear that gets created mid-break is our opportunity to grow. Either we become our own worst enemy and get caught up in our ugly stories, or we come back to ourselves and open the door for reconnection with someone else. Whether it’s a long journey on the Appalachian trail, or a short, yet meaningful journey through our own fears, maybe all we can ever do is come home.
Kim Baker, author of the Girls’ Guide to Healthy Dating: Between the Breakup and the Next U-Haul, is a dati