Thursday, January 28, 2010

Distance and Distantness

Last week, Donald arrived home from his job-away-from-home after a very long week. His parents were going out that night, so I was making dinner and I was excited to cook for my man again. It was going to be a night on our own and we were looking forward to it.

The night crashed and burned.

When Donald pulled into the driveway, I went out to greet him. I stopped partway to the car however, realizing that the dinner I had started was still cooking away on the stove and I needed to go right back inside to tend to it. So instead of enjoying a proper greeting, Donald went to change his clothes and I went back to the kitchen with no contact and only a few words exchanged.

I was focused on preparing the meal (something I hadn't made before), so when Donald came through the kitchen, he didn't stop. He caught up with his dad in another room. I noticed this, and realizing that we hadn't greeted each other, I went into the room and gave him a big sideways hug so as not to interrupt their conversation. Not really satisfying for either of us.

The meal turned out well and we even played footsie under the table as we ate. I was distracted, however, because earlier in the day, I had been brainstorming about how I was worried that our differing choices about how we each spend our free time might mean that we don't have as much in common as I thought we should. I wanted to share my thoughts with Donald and I knew that I should bring it up as soon as I could so that we could figure it out together.

I seriously misjudged. Donald hadn't been home long enough to unwind. I started the conversation in a round-about and indirect way. I didn't couch the situation as something to figure out - Donald heard it as something I had decided, not something for discussion. I was thinking about me and how I need to make sure that I'm spending my time doing things for ME so I don't end up like my mother, yet I wanted to make sure that our interests still overlapped so that we were still spending quality time together.

The entire evening really threw Donald off. I hadn't thought about what I wanted to say, which created a very confused conversation that was potentially very scary. I mean, what do you say to your spouse when they seem to be telling you that you don't have enough in common? I was too wrapped up in my head to see how it came across until the stress hit a high point.

We see-sawed between being argumentative and snuggling in front of the TV (I'm not sure how) and we went to bed with a high level of stress and distance between us. I could tell that Donald was upset and instead of trying to comfort him and reassure him, I gave him space and silence so he could tell me what he was thinking. I was distant, physically and emotionally. That wasn't what he needed.

My "giving him space" came across as though I didn't want to touch him, didn't want to interact with him. This only exacerbated the stress between us. We worked it out that night, in the dark, trying to figure out how our communication could have gone so badly off the rails.

After some reflection, I'm wondering about what has changed. Perhaps the physical distance between us while he is back and forth to his job has created emotional distance? Perhaps I have adopted a more independent mind-set so that while he is gone I am still functional and productive? Perhaps the fact that Donald is working again has thrown off my balance in terms of my role and his expectations?

Even though I understand the circumstances that lead to our tiff, and I think that many of them can be avoided in the future, it's important to me to learn more from this experience than the surface things.

I know that I need to be clearer when I talk to Donald about our relationship, especially when my thoughts are scary. I need to phrase things better so he knows that we're still on the same team and that we will work things out together.

I know that when Donald is upset, he needs comforting and reassurance. Even though his words might say "give me space" he wants a hug and for me to show him that I love him no matter what. This will also get me to stop thinking about myself in that moment and to remember that he needs me.

I know that we're still in a phase of transition and that Donald and I need to keep talking about our expectations and roles in our marriage. I need to balance being independent and remembering that even when he is not physically present, that I am not alone. My walls need to come down, not get reinforced.

I know that spending our free time differently doesn't matter. Right now, we don't have as many opportunities to spend time together, so it seems like we're not doing as much together, but when we're living in our own place again, we will have these opportunities again and I know that we will find a new balance.

I know that in addition to being more aware of Donald's love for me and the ways he shows me that he loves me, I need to do the same for him. This means supporting his interests and learning more about him and what makes him tick. It means showing him that I appreciate what he does for me. I don't have to do everything he likes all the time and he doesn't have to do that for me either. It's about making the effort, like wearing a piece of jewelry he bought you that you haven't worn much, or reminding him that you play video games because he got you to try something new and that he pushes you to be a better person.

Two of the blogs I read gave me some important marriage advice that I wish I had read before I poked Donald at a low energy moment. Kate and Newlywed & Unemployed wrote "How to Motivate a Man" and Corey at Simple Marriage wrote "Marriage Made Easy Before It Begins". I'm sure I'll be sharing more about what I learn about the difficulties (and triumphs) of marriage and I hope you'll join me and share your experiences too.


  1. Hi Daphne,

    I just read through your week's posts! WOW...I just love how you put it all out there. The nuts, the bolts, and the guts.

    I understand being distant and the distantness. It happens when you're apart physically and emotionally. But you have the courage to explore the underlying issues, to have the tough conversations, and you are brave to make mistakes along the way and learn together!

    Happy Friday!

  2. My husband and I have certainly had our fair share of "distanceness." Quite honestly, I think it's entirely unavoidable. The important thing is to recognize its happening and resolve to change what can be changed to bring things back around to a healthy place. Experiencing distance and not noticing it is where the real dangers lie. I think you and Donald are doing yourselves a great service by leaving those lines of communication open and accessible.
    Great post! =

  3. Hi Daphne,oh how our pre-occupations can lead us away from what is really going on.
    You wanting to make a difficult dinner and wanting to talk straight away and he just wanting to have a quiet home coming and re-adjust, get his feet so to speak.
    It is good to look back and see what happened and talk about it and get to what happened rather than making things up. It is all learning from experience and trying things out until you know what works when he comes home AND also what works in a relationship full stop.
    Talking is good, keep checking if you are not going off on a tangent on your own is so important.
    Love Wilma

  4. Peggy - I appreciate you going back and catching up on what I have written, that means a lot to me and I like knowing that you're getting the whole picture, not just whichever post happens to be at the top. Thank you for doing that. Donald and I definitely hope to keep being brave and making mistakes together.

    Mindy - I think you're right, that distantness happens in all relationships at one point or another. We do try our best to avoid shutting down when that happens. Thank you so much for the support!

    Wilma - It is amazing how easy it is to be distracted from what is happening, even when we think that we are being open and present. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  5. Hi Daphne! I hope you found some comfort in writing all this out - I know it is painful. I have volumes (journals) of what I call my hind-sight - how easily we "get it" afterwards, eh? It's all meant to teach us how to live with one another. My husband had an imaginary "Bitch-o-meter" he said was in the garage - he paused to see what the reading was before coming in the door. Smart man. I was home with 2 screaming kids all day - godonlyknows what he'd walk into. I also employed imaginary duct tape on my mouth (came in handy when the kids were teens too!) and I would try to "read" him before opening my mouth.

    None of this happened overnight but resulted from experiences like yours and Donald's. Just thought I'd share that.

  6. Y'know.. the biggest thing I fear about Gary's military career is the separation. I've always believed that one of the keys to a successful relationship was to change and grow Together. I fear that if we were separated for long, we'd outgrow one another. We'd change to the point we hardly recognized each other.

    I also struggle now and then with plunging someone into the middle of a conversation I've been having in my head. Especially if it's a confrontation of any kind because I've had to psych myself up and I am Ready To Go all at once in a tumbling hurry.

  7. suzen - It has helped to write things out. I think that knowing that I have shared it with the world, I feel more accountable to learning from my experiences. I do trust that Donald and I will get better about reading each other. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and for encouraging us to keep moving forward.

    Kate - I agree that changing and growing together is important. Separation is a really interesting thing when it comes to relationships. Donald and I spent two years of our dating life a five-hour drive apart from each other and I think that taught us how to stay in touch and to grow without growing apart. Keep in mind, too, that some people who live together still grow apart, so it's not always the fault of distance.

    I love what you said about plunging someone into the middle of a conversation you're having in your head. I do this so much and Donald can often tell that I'm being particularly thoughtful and wants to know what I'm thinking about. Sometimes taking thoughts out of the oven before they are baked all the way through can be disastrous. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

    I'd love to keep chatting with you about how things go with Gary's military separation times. Based on what I've been reading on your blog, I think you're both well-equipped to handle it. Thanks so much for your comment!


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