I have written and re-written this post one hundred times. Anyone who has ever had a fight with their spouse probably knows how such fights proceed down a winding and tortuous path. Arguments are put forth, things are said, and these arguments are only an approximation of what we actually think or feel. It is so hard in these moments to put our finger on what the real root of any problem is. Andrew helped me with the drafts of this post, and it meets his approval.
It surprised the hell out of me that one measly attempt to open a respectful, substantive conversation amongst my friends caused my own husband to lose respect for me. It unearthed accusations against my character as flighty, manic, depressive, and unreliable.
“I love you, but….” rings extremely hollow in moments like these. “You aren’t ___________, you are acting ___________,” also rings hollow. For me, my actions form my character, so if I act poorly, I am poor in character. No matter how we shake this, I felt my entire character being attacked. Over-Thinker, Over Tryer, Ms. Sensitivity abandon reason and twirl into a frenzy driven by instinct and emotion. I have a hard time hearing Judith-the-Wise over the din.
I have never felt more alone in my whole life. I am 13,000 miles from home; 13,000 miles away from anyone that cares about me. I am alone with only a person who is mad at me on this boat.
I responded as humans do.
I had two options. Retreat or attack.
No one has ever accused me of being a shrinking violet, so of course I first responded with my own attacks. Just like with the MEMEs we fire back and forth, I used every persuasive tool in my lawyer's toolbox of persuasion: logic, irony, emotion, condescension, impassioned speech. I pushed and pushed for my position i.e.: I am not flighty, manic, depressive or unreliable. I matched Andrew’s words against me with my own against him, “you are cold hearted, selfish, and controlled by apathy.” I felt vindicated, but I also knew I wasn’t helping my ultimate goal: to worm my way back toward our happy and loving marriage. I could see my words cause him to feel more disregard for me, not less.
So, then, I tried to retreat and withdraw to my Snowflake Safe Space. “Fine, fine. Forget it, I’ll just be a quiet, happy wife! Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy….” I toddle my head back and forth with a false smile on my lips. I meant it, but even as I said it I knew I could never make this work. Even if “faking it” would build his regard for me, it would poison my regard for him. Resentment and anger settled in the pit of my stomach in the few short hours I tried this tact.
Over the course of several days, I tried alternately to be either an asshole or a snowflake. Attack or retreat. I felt out of options and didn’t know what else to do. My sister happened to be online and having a little chat with her saved me. She helped me quiet down the raging indignation just long enough that I could hear Judith-the-Wise. I realized if I want out of this fight, I have to do what I am saying we should do in all disagreements.
Start with the assumption Andrew is good at heart.
Be curious about what is really going on.
Open a careful examination; be slow to draw conclusions.
Stand my ground, firmly but kindly.
Respect that even the Evil Overlord has something important to contribute.
Make our marriage and kindness a priority.
Make space for each other, embrace Evil Overlord's difference of opinion.
If I want out of this fight, I have to go stand in Andrew’s shoes and look around for a minute. I have to understand what motivations are behind the mean story playing in his head about me. I have to figure the root of his concerns. Is it a lack of love like it seems, or is it something else?
He is saying “I do love you, but…” over and over again. So, if I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt I have to trust that it really is about something else.
I ask myself, “What is this really all about?” I ask Andrew a series of questions to help me understand why he thinks I am flighty, manic, depressed, and unreliable. It was hard to do; I don't want to listen to this. I listened anyway. I learned Andrew has not trusted me to be reliable since the day three years ago that I said “I’m not sure I want to go sailing.” I learned he dreads it when I become enthusiastic about something because he “knows its going cause a fight.”
This is the moment I really understood the Evil Overlord’s job.
Evil Overlord’s job is to prevent Andrew’s goals from being derailed by anything, including me. Evil Overlord knows I am the most likely influence to pull Andrew away from his goal. At some point in 2014 or 2015, Evil Overlord stopped viewing me as a partner who will make Andrew’s success more likely. He started to see me as a hinderance he must limit or control. Now, Evil Overlord is working really hard to keep me in place, keep Andrew in place, and keep this game on track.
I have felt for a while that my failures at sea are given more airtime in Andrew’s mind than my successes. This is the frustration and grievance we were grappling with just a month ago in Papua New Guinea. And now I understand why. Evil Overlord will look for evidence that supports his position (i.e. my gas can tantrum) and he will disregard evidence that distracts from his position (i.e. my enjoyment of the several dry, starry night watches.)
Once I realize this, my sorrow grows very heavy but my heart softens. Even though the Evil Overlord is not being very nice to me, I can appreciate and understand his motivations. He just wants Andrew to be successful. I want Andrew to be successful, too. I already know our common ground. How do I convince the Evil Overlord that we are on the same team even if we see things differently?
I have to get him to trust me enough to talk. I can't write Evil Overlord off as...well, evil.
“Okay,” I say, “Help me understand. The way I see it, I have been a necessary and helpful component to this fourteen year, ongoing circumnavigation process. My top ten contributions have been as follows:…” I give him a short list of the contributions I made to this process. Then I told the Evil Overlord “I am willing to consider I am a risk and a hinderance to your goals. If I am, I will move out of the way.”
We talk. He raises concerns about my enthusiasm getting in the way and I wait. I listen. When he is finished, I tell him “I can understand your worry, but I want to push you on this point. I don’t think my enthusiasm makes me a hinderance, but a help. I was enthusiastic about sailing from the first day we tried it. If I hadn’t been, we wouldn’t be here at all.”
He considers this, and responds “Okay, but all these things that catch your eye: writing, photography, this business idea, that business idea. They flit into your mind for a week and then they die. How do I know which one will carry you off?”
Again, I see where he might think this because he is not privy to my personal thoughts and project planning behind the scenes. This is partially because when I talk about it he is too worried to listen. I tell him I understand, but I ask him to consider my history over the course of our last thirteen years together in which I pursued my career as an attorney and I started building toward the goal of circumnavigation. Both projects turned out to be successful, at least so far. I became enthusiastic about all sorts of side projects during this timeframe, but usually I would loop them back into my two key goals as successful lawyer and circumnavigator. I ask Evil Overlord to think about all the time we spent mountain biking and camping 2007-2016. These are two side projects that detracted from the sailing goal with regard to time and money, but helped provide some experience in planning for discomfort and self reliance.
“Remember all these side projects?” I ask the Evil Overlord. “I used them to help us achieve our goals, rather than detract from them. Help me understand why they are bad?”
As we talked about this, the tension, anger, resentment, sadness, and fear for the state of our marriage dissipated. Eventually, I understood better where Andrew was coming from and he understood better where I am coming from. And with that knowledge, we can plan better for happier sailing and passages. The way this conversation progressed makes the achievement of our goal more likely rather than less likely.
Did I change Evil Overlord’s mind about whether I am a hinderance or a help? I don’t know, but we definitely went further toward a common, happy solution that we were heading using the attack and retreat strategies. If the only strategies we use is attack and retreat, we will stop working together, stop trusting each other, lose love, increase resentment and disregard, and our common goals will not be achieved. Our success requires us to address disagreements artfully.
Acknowledging this, we brainstorm policy and procedure rules that will help us disagree better. Two amendments are submitted for proposal to our wedding vows (i.e. our marriage contract.) The first propsal, Andrew has requested in every fight we’ve had for the last ten years, so it is well over due.
These amendments are being circulated for consideration, but we do not like to finalize legislation while emotions are raw. So, they are on the table for further modification, acceptance or rejection in thirty days time. If you think I'm joking about this, let me assure you I am not. We both referred to the original wedding vows during this tussle, and I even put Amendment #1 (written notice and an opportunity to cure) into play. They help align our discussion around what our obligations are and where our failings lie. #marriedtoalawyer #marriageisacontract #nerd
And, what conclusion have I drawn about our interactions as US citizens, friends, neighbors of different political bends? Not many. I remain confused and ambiguous about most issues associated with politics, social media, and my interaction with my fellow countrymen. I’m not ashamed to say that many issues are so complex I have not yet draw strong and fast conclusions. The one thing I know is that if we do not begin treating each other better, disagreeing more artfully, respecting the procedures already in place designed to help us live together in peace and prosperity, and working together to solve problems as they arise, we will not achieve our goals as a nation. Just like with sailing, key players are going to get to the next port and catch a flight home. There will be divorce; it will just be called “civil war” instead. The outcome is in all of our hands and will be determined by our day to day actions.
And maybe start taking more selfies.