Do You Hear What I Feel?

Name: Tom |  Location: Chicago , IL |Question: I think my relationship is in the dire need of a tune up.  I have been dating the same girl for the last 2 years, and we got into a big fight yesterday about whether or not we want the same thing, she wanting to be more serious, while me maybe wanting to be a little more casual.  However saying how crappy I am feeling right now I think I want her pretty badly too right now.   A little bit of background.  We are both in our late twenties, and met on-line.  We started dating maybe 3 months after I moved to Chicago.  I was dating other people too, but chose her.  I had a job that required heavy travel, and at one time spent 5 months in the Middle East.  I quit that job last year, and got a new one that still required travel but not as much.  While switching jobs I moved in briefly with my girlfriend (the old job provided a hotel for me to live in, so I was essentially homeless), it was great and I moved out after maybe 3 weeks as I found my own apartment.  So it’s almost a year later.  I was in the Middle East again, this time for 3 weeks, and have been traveling a lot the last 2 months, but will be home for a long time now.  We had a very intense talk yesterday about where we are going with our relationship, and what our next steps should be. Meanwhile lots of people we know are getting married, including my brother, and some of our best friends.  I think she wants to take that next step but I’m not really ready yet. I care a lot about her, and think I will be in the future, but I don’t know when.  All of my friends who have been married did so after knowing the other person for a long time, maybe 5 – 7 years plus.  Should I bring this up?  I don’t want to wait 5 years, but maybe like 2 more before making a decision. We are also having problems communicating when we are upset at each other so things gather up and boil over.  It’s all things that can be resolved, you know not getting along with her  friends, my parents being difficult, stuff like that.  Are there any good ways to tell each other when we’re upset at each other?  I feel like complete crap right now, and need to figure out what to do. |Age: 27


We are also having problems communicating when we are upset at each other so things gather up and boil over.

Let’s leave all the other stuff to the side for the moment. This? Right here? This is the issue you need to prioritize. This is the thread that, if pulled too hard, will make the whole relationship unravel. There’s nothing more destructive to a relationship than if one or both people can not effectively and maturely express their feelings of hurt, frustration or disappointment. What usually happens is that one person says something hurtful because they are feeling defensive. Then walls come crashing in and it becomes a grudge match.

The key to avoiding such a scene is self-awareness. You have to learn how to identify what exactly it is that you are feeling. If you can’t pin point it, you’ll never be able to communicate what it is that is going on in your head. Anger is usually a cover for something deeper, like hurt. So if you can think of it that way the next time a situation arises, maybe you’ll put more thought in to what you’re about to say. When we feel hurt, it’s easy to just react and not think. We want the other person to feel what we’re feeling. The goal of any intense discussion between you and someone you care about should be to alleviate the pain, not cause more.

The next step is to empathize for your partner. Put yourself in their shoes and try to rationalize why they took the actions they did. Ask yourself why they might feel the way they feel. Here’s an example. Let’s say you work a really stressful job. You work all kinds of hours and deal with demanding superiors. You aren’t home a lot, you’re time isn’t really your own, etc. Your partner starts complaining that they never see you. They want to know where you are and when you’ll be home. Instead of snapping at them or accusing them of grilling you for your whereabouts, think for a moment why they might be doing that. Maybe they miss you. Maybe they’re afraid that the two of you are drifting apart. Usually, it’s fear (with guilt and hurt being a secondary motivators) that drives people to say things in anger. Empathizing for your partner might help quell the frustration, thereby lowering the chances you will say something in the heat of the moment.

Now let’s revisit the other issues. Never underestimate the pressure a woman might feel by her friends and family in regards to her relationship. Between family members asking questions to friends announcing engagements…it can be a really trying time. How long your friends took to settle down is irrelevant, too. That has no basis in your decision, or at least it shouldn’t.

My guess is that the little fights you’re having are all due to her wanting to know where she stands and you feeling pressured. The thing is, you both essentially want the same thing. THAT’S what you need to tell her. She needs to know that. You need to communicate to her how important she is to you and that you, like she, see a real future. Right now, she’s probably questioning that, and her insecurity has to do with not just you and your actions, but those of her friends. I think you’re both probably going on the defensive every time a disagreement arises, and you’re not really  hearing what the other is saying. Instead of going to that place, remind yourself that you and she have the same intentions and want the same things. Listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t react impulsively. Just listen.  It’s very easy to distinguish between genuine anger and hurt or fear. In those moments, we give ourselves away with out pitch and tone and facial expressions.

If you can do that, you’ll be better able to really hear what she’s saying…and feeling.

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25 Responses to “Do You Hear What I Feel?”

  1. Angeline Says:

    There are few things more unfair to your partner than being pissed at them and not having the guts to speak up about it. You both have established this pattern now, so you need to have a couple of conversations about ‘fighting fair’. It should include this rule: no soap opera/TV drama-style fighting, i.e. making a point or acting in a way that plays to the invisible TV cameras (making a scathing statement and flouncing out of the room, slamming doors, biting sarcasm). If what you are about to say doesn’t advance things between you, but is designed to score points, stow it.

  2. Jaclyn Says:

    From her perspective, the problem is that she wants to get married and wants assurances that this relationship is going to lead to marriage. But you can’t guarantee that right now – since you shouldn’t marry anyone you have this much trouble communicating with, plus a long distance relationship isn’t the same as a local one (It’s harder to get an idea of whether or not you are compatable if you are long distance or traveling a lot for work.) Try to work on communication, but it is possible that your gf may feel that she has put in enough time after 2 years, and wants a commitment soon. If she is unhappy all the time because you won’t marry her, then the relationship is doomed since you need to put in some work before you should make a committment, but if she thinks you should just propose she will be angry at you all the time. I did this in my relationship with my ex, and after a certain point there was nothing he could do short of propose to make me happy. Thankfully, I found a better partner, but there would have been no way to salvage that relationship once my head got stuck in the “why hasn’t he proposed yet” groove.

  3. Paula Says:

    I think Moxie’s advice is dead on here, but her blog posts don’t have the thumbs up like the comments do. She is absolutely right about this:

    There’s nothing more destructive to a relationship than if one or both people can not effectively and maturely express their feelings of hurt, frustration or disappointment. What usually happens is that one person says something hurtful because they are feeling defensive. Then walls come crashing in and it becomes a grudge match.

    It’s a skill that some people just seem to be better at that others, so at 27, some have it already, but a lot of others have relationships unwind around this point (late 20s/early 30s) and learn it the hard way, through the failure of a starter marriage or a fairly long-term relationship that appeared headed that way. (Some never learn it, like yesterday’s OP, who still can’t talk about sex openly, even to herself, in her 40s, after she’s had a marriage fail because of it.)

    You will save yourself and your partner a lot of pain and grief if you focus on making open communication a defining characteristic of your relationship. Even if you end up not making it because you want different things, the breakup will go more smoothly if both of you are able to clearly articulate what you want and need to each other. I hope that doesn’t happen, and that you can get to the same place together, but that probably won’t happen without you being able to open up to each other before things get hostile.

  4. Saj Says:

    Some friends of mine are in the process of getting a divorce. He also traveled all the time and their communication style were major contributing factor for the demise of their relationship. This may be something for you to look into. Relationships can have enough pressure and stress put on to them with adding heavy travel and ambiguity into the mix. She is waiting at home worrying about your future and right now it is in an uncertain place. Other people around her have more apparently secure futures and it’s making her feel insecure and wondering if she is feeling like she made a mistake. I remember breaking up with my ex after a wedding because it flooded me with emotions of him refusing to talk about our future and hating dealing with that uncertainty.

    You need to find a way to reassure her and get to a place where you both feel like you understand each other and agree on a time line for figuring things out or losing her is a very real possibility,

  5. Maargen Says:

    Moxie hit this one on the head.

    Learn to understand what you’re feeling and why. Learn to express it as clearly as possible to your partner. Do not be afraid to trust your partner with your hurt, your doubts and your fears. You say that you’re not ready yet to make a commitment. With the amount of seperation the two of you have had over two years, that’s perfectly understandable, so focus on expressing to her how this has naturally had an effect on the progression of the relationship – this is no one’s fault.

    Then put yourself in your partner’s place. Remember that she can’t read your mind: she knows you’re not with her very often because you can’t be, but she doesn’t necessarily know how often your thoughts are with her. Telling her after she’s upset doesn’t have the same impact as volunteering how much you miss her. Try to have her join you more often while you’re away – even if it’s not possible the attempt will make her feel great.

    She may understand that you’re not ready to make a commitment right now, but she may be fearing that it’s because you’re waiting for something better to come along, or because you want to be free to pursue other women when you’re away from her. This may not be at all true, but if you realize that she’s possibly worried about that, you’ll stress the specific reasons why you want to be with her and no one else.

    All in all assume goodwill. The negativity and anger she may express may be a cover for the vulnerability and doubts that she’s afraid to express directly. She may say things that hurt you, but rather than react to those things by lashing out (and thereby escalating the fight), calmly call her on them and let her know that she doesn’t need to try to hurt you out of her fear and anger. Of course, on your side try to keep the discussions on point, and don’t say things you might not mean simply for effect.

    Arguing well takes a lot of self control, and you sometimes might have to compensate for your partner’s lack of it. Thank goodness constructive arguing is a skill that can be learned, and gets easier with practice. Good luck.

  6. Capt. Jack Sparrow Says:

    After 2 years, you should have a sense about whether you want to marry your girlfriend. I’m not saying you should get married tomorrow, but you should have a good sense. I think, after 2 years together, she should be entitled to know what your long-term plans are and how she fits into them. She has a right to your honest thoughts on the matter. If you want to marry her, don’t string her along. If you want to marry her after X, Y, Z … then tell her as much.

    If you’re not sure, perhaps you should spend some time reflecting on where your reservation is coming from. We hesitate for a reason. Be honest with yourself first as to why you’re hestitating. You might be afraid to hurt her by breaking-up after 2 years together. But frankly, you’ll hurt her (and yourself) a LOT more if you stay with her if you’re not really committed to her for the long-haul.

    • chuckrock Says:

      @ 27 should he really be ready to be married? I know I wasn’t when i was 27 and I was with my exgf longterm already at that point. i think he is young yet and he should just reassure her that he does see a future with her but knows he is still too young to make such a commitment.

      • Paula Says:

        Despite the fact that most men, and perhaps most people in the US, especially college-educated professionals, aren’t ready to marry at 27, the more we know about fertility, the more that we should start thinking about it that soon. 30 is pretty much the optimal time to have a baby, and unless you want to have a baby right after you get married (most don’t, and prefer to enjoy being a married couple for a little while first), then 27 is getting pretty close to the time to decide, assuming she’s the same age. Factor in a year to be engaged and plan a wedding, and 1 1/2-2 years of being married before having a child, and you’re right at 30.

        If things don’t work out, then you’re scrambling in your early/mid 30s if having a child is important to you, and trying not to become one of those desperate ticking biological clock types, or picking someone just because they’re willing to have children, even though they’re not right for you.

        I wish someone had told me I had less time than I thought I had, and I have a lot more respect than I used to for women who start pushing in their late 20s.

        • nathan Says:

          Although I agree with your points factually Paula, I always find the whole “optimal time for a child” argument as a troubling reason to push along a relationship. After two years together, it’s reasonable for the OP’s girlfriend to want to know what the future might hold. However, if the desire is mostly around having children – as opposed to the relationship being strong and healthy – there’s something screwed about that. They sound like they need to figure out how to communicate disagreement with each other in more healthy ways before pressing for marriage and children (if that’s the desired end goal.)

          And you know, whenever I hear all the baby talk, I think of the numerous children out there who would love to be adopted. Why does it so often seem to come down to “you better find a partner and get him/her to commit” before you’re “clock runs out”?

          It just seems to me that a hell of a lot of people rush their relationships to have children, and then find themselves bloody miserable a few years down the road. In fact, so much so in some extreme cases that the same children end up abused and neglected, removed from their homes, and themselves adoption cases. I spent 4 years working with children in such circumstances, and it made me pause greatly around the whole issue of children and biological clocks. If you have just enough dysfunction and craziness within a relationship, it can seriously impact the lives not only of the partners, but their children. And anyone who believes that only drug addicts and lowlifes abuse their children is just indulging a stereotype that doesn’t hold water.

          • Paula Says:

            I don’t disagree with you, Nathan — it’s not something that can or should be rushed.

            >>If you have just enough dysfunction and craziness within a relationship, it can seriously impact the lives not only of the partners, but their children.

            A good friend of over two decades is now going through the absolute worst permutation of this: her 2 1/2 year old daughter was abducted by the girl’s father, and their bodies were found last week in a murder-suicide. For every day of the rest of her life she has to live with the consequences of who she chose to love and bear a child with, and it was a choice that seemed like a reasonable one at the time: he was charming, smart, educated, and claimed to love her. She didn’t wait to know him better, because she was in her 40s and didn’t have that time, but also because some people can hide their mental illness very well. Now a precious girl is dead, at the hands of a madman, and as her friend, there is absolutely nothing I can do or say.

            So yes, take your time to make sure you’re with the right person, realizing that all the time in the world might not be enough for some craziness to reveal itself. But also, it is also a form of cruelty to stay with a woman you don’t intend to marry without allowing her to find an appropriate husband and father within the period of fertility she has remaining.

          • Saj Says:

            Sadly I know quite a few people who have been trying to adopt and who have been unable due to this circumstance or not. Adoption is just not made easy and ends up being so emotionally heart breaking with near chances only with the rug being pulled out from under you that many couples give up. The only instance where it did work out is when my sister was a foster mom first but she still had to fight the court system for years and the bio parents being willing to give up their rights or bonding with foster kids only to lose them when the parents make a half ass attempt at rehab.

            It’s so easy to say just adopt but 4 couples I know trying to do just that are having a hell of a time with it.

            • Paula Says:

              First, it’s now incredibly expensive, whether you do an international adoption or a private one, between what you have to pay to the agency and/or the mother for “expenses,” plus the cost of making everything in your life just right (like having a separate bedroom for the child, even though many bio parents keep the crib in their bedroom or someplace where there’s not a separate room for several years post-birth.) I’ve heard $25K as the figure thrown around, and that’s not so far off, and it’s not covered by insurance the way that a number of the costs of pregnancy are.

              If you adopt through a state agency or fost-adopt program, you’re almost certainly going to be adopting a child with special needs, whether physical, emotional, or both, which many parents are simply not equipped to handle. (Parents whose children are born with special needs have little choice in the matter, but those who have experienced it know what a toll on your life that it takes and that most people honestly wouldn’t sign up for that experience unless they have to.)

              Finally, as someone who is adopted, and who has had about as good an experience as one can have, I will say that many if not most have not been so lucky as I have. Parents who are willing to adopt don’t instantly become saints, and adopted kids have a number of psychological issues that many adoptive parents have not figured out a good way to address. It’s not just about being grateful that you have a home and that someone wanted you — it also means having to figure out what it means that the person closest to you chose to reject you (even for justifiable reasons). So it’s not all the rainbows and unicorns it’s cracked up to be, and often is not an equivalent alternative for a parent who feels a strong need to give birth or have a biological child, as merely having a child doesn’t address some of those needs.

        • Jaclyn Says:

          Wanting to have a child in your early 30s should not be a question of pushing your partner in your late 20s – especially in a relationship like this one, in which there are serious communication issues. It means that women in their late 20s should make serious dating a priority and only date men who are financially and emotionally stable enough to make a commitment. It doesn’t mean pressuring the wrong guy to marry you – because then you will be miserable in a few years, and dragging your innocent children through a divorce.

          You need to make dating a priority – I have a friend in her early 30s who lives on Staten Island, and I keep telling her to move because the men there all get married young, and the men in Manhattan or Brooklyn aren’t interested in dating women on Staten Island. And you need to avoid men who aren’t settled in their career since (like the OP) they lack the stability to be in a committed relationship. You need to avoid the myriad of immature men who will make great fathers when they are ready to settle down in 10-15 years. They have that time, but women who want their own biological children don’t.

        • Saj Says:

          I agree with you Paula. While here I probably come off as more traditional my mom and sisters all married at 19 and for me I thought that was a bit young but I always felt my 20’s was a time for serious dating. I like relationships period. They are nice, love is nice and one good relationship is nicer then a bunch of 3-4 month stints. It’s easy to find boyfriends in your 20’s too, no baggage, no kids, no ex wives. You just have to be mature enough to not think you need lots of sources of attention from other men and want to be available to bask in it.

          I broke up with my waffling boyfriend when I was 24 (many girls wait to do this when their bio clock is ticking in their late 20’s and early 30’s). I met my now husband at 25 and saw he dug relationships and marriage and family life as much as I did and got married at 26, had a baby at 27 and due to her having special needs I can focus on taking care of her a bit and still have time before having another kid before calling it done.

          The first 20 minutes of idioacricy are hilarious when they compare 2 doctors waiting to have kids compared to the white trash hillbillies spitting them out one after another after another. Finally one of the doctors dies in an artificial insemination attempt leaving the female doctor alone with her frozen eggs and she ends up saving the life of one of the redneck kids who goes on to birth 40 more kids. The moral of the story is smart people should stop waiting until its too late to have kids.

    • Maargen Says:

      After 2 years, you should have a sense about whether you want to marry your girlfriend.

      I’m wondering if the time they spent apart might make a difference? I can imagine that spending two years of regular, day-to-day contact will allow two people to establish their routine and have a clearer picture of what a life together would be like. Maybe it’s not the same when you get together for a week or two after a few months apart: wouldn’t there be a tendency then to be on one’s best behaviour (consciously or no), so they’re not getting to know each other as well as others who spend two years without that distance? Just wondering…

      • Paula Says:

        If I understand his timeline correctly, it goes something like this:

        *months 0-3: non-exclusive dating
        *months 3-5: exclusive dating
        *months 6-11: him gone in Middle East
        *month 12: moved in with her while switching jobs
        *months 13-22: in new job: home but traveling a lot
        *month 23: in Middle East
        *month 24: traveling a lot, but will now be home for a while

        So, of that two years, there were at most 3-4 months of exclusive dating in year 1, and who knows how much time in year 2, because he’s been traveling so much. I’m even wondering whether it adds up to a year of actual time spent together in the same place, and they’ve only lived together for 3 weeks, if having some living together time is important before making the final decision about marriage.

        I think 2 years of exclusive dating is pretty much a good rule of thumb, but at their ages, if they haven’t had something close to that, I would tend to side with him (even given what I said above about 27 being the right age to figure this out) that even a year longer with him in town consistently should be enough time to know for sure.

    • pistola Says:

      I’m with Capt. Jack on this one and here’s why.

      They may have spent a long time apart, and maybe OP isn’t ready to marry, but what he says in his letter is that she wants to be more committed and he wants to be more casual. Two years is way too far into things for “casual” to be an option, IMO.

      • Kegs Says:

        Pistola picks up on the right comment, that suprised me too. If you really see this person as someone you may want to marry, I don’t see how you can describe wanting the relationship to be ‘casual’ after 2 years. Wanting to delay marriage until you are sure is one thing, wanting to engage in a casual relationship is something else entirely. Especially if by casual, you mean non-exclusivity when you are traveling, or no talking of a future together or making plans.

        • Devon Brown Says:

          I think that his use of the word “casual” is simply because he is feeling pressure right now and would like that pressure to be relieved. Everything he said after that lends itself that he wants to be serious with his girlfriend, just that he isn’t ready for marriage right now. His phrasing of “casual” is probably another example of the poor communication between him and his girlfriend. If people here take it to mean one thing, it is quite possible his girlfriend takes it the same way. And then gets even more hurt and scared. And then the cycle of arguing continues.

          Moxie is 1,000,000% correct on this – communication is THE issue for this issue to couple to explore.

          • Crotch Rocket Says:

            “t he wants to be serious with his girlfriend, just that he isn’t ready for marriage right now.” If he really wanted to be serious with her, he’d be ready. Not being ready is a sign you (consciously or not) don’t think you’re with the right person.

      • Cricri Says:

        I know, when I read “casual”, I thought, “do you even know what it means to be casual”. Casual was those 3/4 months at the beginning. You’re in a committed relationship, you live together for God’s sake! If after 2 years a guy tells me he wants to keep things casual, it means that he is either stupid ( and I shouldn’t be with him) or lying to me (and I also shouldn’t be with him).

        • Paula Says:

          I read his post to mean that they only lived together very briefly when he was between jobs and scrambling for new housing, and not that they’re living together now.

        • Paula Says:

          And also that they didn’t get those 3-4 months in the beginning, because they were not exclusive, and then he was gone for 5 months. So it’s almost like year 1 didn’t count, as it seems like the first hint of any sort of seriousness is when he stayed with her between jobs.

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