Chapter 16: The next time I ask for $1000, just give me a veggie burger instead!
Sometimes when we try to communicate, everything goes wrong and we don’t understand why. Perhaps we’re more prone to argue than usual, or maybe we’re having trouble focusing or listening. Once you realize this is happening, take a moment to connect with yourself. Take a break from the conversation to assess your physical and emotional state. Is there something going on that’s interfering and making things difficult?
Kyeli’s Story: The Best Veggie Burger Ever!
Pace and I were talking about money. The subject was often stressful because we have opposing money issues and we tend to accidentally tread on each other’s landmines. This particular time, we had recently merged our separate bank accounts to a joint account, which we were mostly happy about doing. We’d done the merge mid-month and this caused some problems. A few days before we merged our accounts, Pace invested $10,000 out of her bank accounts: $9000 out of savings and $1000 out of checking. We then merged the accounts. On the first of the new month, we were short that same $1000 for various bills. We were hit with a slew of overdraft fees and had to scramble to cover rent.
The resulting discussion got heated. Pace felt frustrated and was afraid of losing her money. I felt frustrated too, trying to get her to understand that the $1000 she’d invested from her checking account had been the money we needed, because it would have been her share of our bills had we not merged. She got angry, I got upset, and we wound up yelling at each other.
Eventually, we decided to take a break, a time-out for resting and remembering that we were trying to solve a common problem and could work together instead of fighting each other. We decided to eat veggie burgers for dinner.
Pace took one bite, one bite, shook her head, and said, “I am being greedy and selfish. That money was totally ours, I accidentally invested too much, and I will happily take care of the mess we’re in.” I looked at her agog, and she grinned that bright, beautiful smile and said, “The next time I ask for $1000, just give me a veggie burger instead!”
Pace’s problem wasn’t actually anger, it was hunger. She used to get unfocused, zoned-out, and prickly when she was hungry, but she wouldn’t realize it until she snapped at Kyeli. This is another time when it’s good to remember that we are made of meat. We can’t think or communicate clearly when our bodies are distracted by physical needs; this is a normal consequence of having a human body.
There are several states that affect us negatively, any of which can knock us out of whack and make successful communication more difficult. Here are some of the more common ones:
- in pain (e.g. headache, cramps, sprains)
- drugged (e.g. drunk, on pain medication)
- uncomfortable (physically or emotionally)
- sexually frustrated
When you find that you’re no longer in a good place to communicate, find a good place to pause the conversation until your situation can be remedied. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re sleepy or exhausted, ease the conversation to a good stopping place (or at least a good place to pause) so you can get some rest.
Anger is trickier to handle. If you or your partner feels angry, it can be difficult to communicate well. Simply pausing to take a break doesn’t always work, because walking away from an angry person can make them more angry. We’ve found that it’s best to work through the anger first before continuing to discuss the original issues. Calm down or help calm your partner down as best you can, talk through the anger, or find a different method that works. Pause to deal with the anger rather than pausing to wait for it to go away.
Kyeli’s Story: Care and Feeding of the Wild Pace
With Pace, I found that I would notice her hunger before she would. I became good at noticing it, in fact, so I took it upon myself to check with her and see if I could provide her with food. This can be tricky, especially if your loved one is touchy when hungry. I got snapped at quite often until Pace learned to notice her mood on her own.
I discovered that, if I shifted the focus to myself, I could check with her in an inoffensive manner. I would approach her with, “Hey, I’m feeling hungry. How are you? Can we eat something?” Naturally, if I wasn’t hungry, I’d find some other way, because otherwise I’d be lying, but I found that making it about me instead of her made it much more likely to resolve the issue instead of further upsetting her.
As for me, it’s difficult for me to get a good night’s sleep if I’m upset. There have been many nights when we’ve stayed up until dawn discussing difficult things because I can’t unwind with my emotions in upheaval. Pace has problems with this because when she gets sleepy, she has an incredibly difficult time staying focused or awake. We’ve dealt with this by stopping before she gets too sleepy, and making time for cuddling and reassurance before we actually fall asleep. This often helps, but not always, and when it doesn’t, I’ll get up and entertain myself for a little while until I’m calm enough to sleep.
An easy way to remember when to pause communication is with H.A.L.T.: Hungry, Angry, Loopy, Tired.1 If you’re feeling hungry, angry, loopy, or tired, consider postponing communication until your situation improves. It’s tough enough to communicate when our bodies are getting everything they need and are in a good state. If we don’t have enough food, if our emotions are too intense to allow us to think about anything else, if we’re drugged, if we’re sleepy, or if we’re otherwise encumbered, it will make communication even more challenging.
In summary, communication becomes more difficult when you have physical or emotional factors affecting your state of well-being. Pay attention to how you and your partner are doing. If you notice a reason to H.A.L.T., pause the conversation and get back to a state of well-being before continuing.
1. We learned this from 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Originally, the L stood for “lonely,” which is spot-on for addiction recovery, but “loopy” (by which we mean “in an altered mental state, for example on pain medication”) is more relevant to communication.