Chapter 23: The only way out is through
Communication is rewarding, but difficult. It takes effort to figure out your own communication style and to figure out how it differs from the communication styles of those around you. It takes work to identify and hold your boundaries and to respect others’. We feel at odds with those closest to us, even when they’re on our side. We feel trapped in the messes we create.
Sometimes, we get overwhelmed with all this and we want to stop. We want to stop talking, stop having problems, stop everything! Can’t we take a break? Can’t we just go a few days without communicating about anything important?
Kyeli’s Story: Scream Real Loud!
In autumn of 2005, Pace and I went through many intense relationship discussions in preparation for our wedding. After several weeks of this, Pace got frustrated and angrily said, “Can’t we just go one month with no hard discussions? Or with no discussions about relationships at all?!”
I stubbornly clammed up and an entire month passed. Tension occasionally mounted, but I never spoke to Pace about anything significant. I would often talk to many of my close friends to vent my feelings, but utterly refused to discuss anything with Pace. It felt so frustrating I wanted to scream! Pace eventually forgot about her request, but I didn’t, and I went well out of my way to avoid any kind of communication revolving around our relationship.
Finally, the eve before our wedding, Pace asked if we could talk to be sure we were still on the same page. As it’d been exactly a month, I agreed. We talked for five hours and the joy we felt at the end was palpable! We’d been feeling so disconnected, so removed from each other. We wound up crying and holding each other while we talked… and when we finally reached the end and had trailed off, cuddling and relaxing, Pace asked why we’d gone so long without talking. I reminded her of her request and Pace said, “What? That was stupid! If I ever ask for that again, just… I don’t know… do something drastic that’ll remind me what a doofus I felt like tonight!”
“Scream?” I suggested, fluttering my eyelashes at her.
“Sure. Scream real loud. That’ll do it.”
Fast forward many months… Once again, we went through a period of many intense relationship discussions. After many days of this, Pace got frustrated and asked, “Can’t we just go one–“
I took a deep breath and screamed at the top of my lungs. I screamed for so long I nearly passed out.
When I finally stopped, she looked at me agog, completely baffled as to why I could possibly be screaming bloody murder in response to her simple question.
“Well,” I said, “you asked for it.”
A moment of thought passed, then Pace remembered, brightened, and laughed a big, hearty laugh. “Thanks!” she said. We hugged and went on to have many more excellent conversations.
Sometimes we need a break from communicating about sensitive subjects. If you’re feeling burned out on a particular issue, a hiatus can be a good thing. The problem lies in forcing a break for too long a period of time. One of the big dangers of a cease-fire in communication is stewing. If you have a problem and don’t discuss it for a long period of time, it can lead to much bigger problems.
Kyeli’s Story: Richard’s Email Stew
Right after I moved to Dallas, I worked for several months for Richard, a local entrepreneur. At one point, Richard created a new email address for me and neglected to inform me. Many weeks later, things came to a head. He said he had been sending me emails and, from his perspective, I had completely ignored them. When we finally talked, we discovered that I didn’t even know this email address existed and I hadn’t been getting the emails he thought I was ignoring.
Sadly, this was realized too late. The weeks of stewing had irreparably tarnished his opinion of me. The damage had already been done and we were no longer able to work together comfortably. If instead of stewing, he had talked to me when he first felt ignored, we might have been able to salvage our business relationship.
The only way out is through. The only way out from inside a problem is to get through it — to talk and work it through, to communicate, listen, and work together with your partner to get your relationship through the problem and to a happier place. This is the case nearly every time a problem happens; talking it through is the way to a peaceful, secure relationship. We often feel a lot of resistance to having these big conversations, but it’s better to get through them rather than trying to delay or avoid them.
Sometimes you may find that the only way out is to end a relationship, and that’s okay. It’s most often the case that a relationship, business or personal, can be repaired through communication (far more often than we’re led to believe), but occasionally a relationship cannot be repaired and must be ended. That was what happened in Kyeli’s example from her job above. By the time real communication occurred, the damage to their trust was too great to be worked through. It is sad when that happens, but in those cases, letting go and moving forward is a valid option.
When you wish to maintain a healthy, happy, and secure relationship, however — the only way out is through.