Matt and I currently both have injuries on our faces. Both were sustained individually and just so happened to be at the same time. Needless to say, when we both walk into a room with marks on us, our friends start making jokes and asking questions about a fight. While my regular threat to him is that I am going to punch him in the esophagus, (who knows where I got that…) our answer to confrontation is not violence, because, as I tell the 1 year olds I work with, that is not how to make or keep friends. I will say though, that our old way of solving issues was equally as unsuccessful.
You know those people who have super delicate hearts who you have to be gentle with? Well multiply that by 10 and you get me, especially when it comes to dealing with Matt! Mix my need for extreme gentleness with my fear of disappointing him, the fact that I process things internally and that I prefer to avoid hard situations, and you have a beautiful mess.
Lucky for me, Matt is a super gentle man. After a few times of me crying because the tone of his voice shifted ever so slightly, he learned that his level of gentleness was going to have to increase even more than he thought possible. The problem for us came because home boy is a fixer and also likes to externally process things.
So now you have two people who process and work through conflict very differently, and we could not and did not understand the way the other person processed. We really sucked at this for a while. When conflict would arise, I would shut down hard. I would struggle to both physically and mentally stay present in the conversation. I would much rather tune him out and also run away, but apparently that's not a helpful solution. He would want to ‘fix’ the situation immediately. Which often involved a lot of talking on his part as he processed the situation for himself and bombarding me with questions that I was not sure how nor did I really want to answer. Wouldn’t you like to be around for that?! Soops fun. (and yes I did just say ‘soops’, no other word felt right.)
The switch to not being quite as awful at this for us came very slowly. Little by little we started to figure it out, and it started when we stopped associating the other person and their heart with our own hurt.
He finally told me when I said, “I don’t know,” (which was often all I would say over and over again,) it felt like, “I don’t care.” That was not true, I really did care, I just needed a moment to process and collect my thoughts and feelings so that I could make sure that the words that I said were the words that I actually meant, but I could see how in that moment, he would feel that because I know the way his heart processes and the fears it holds. His heart was to make whatever the situation was, right again as quickly as he could, and me not participating was only hurting his heart more because it felt like I did not care enough to do the same.
I eventually voiced that him trying to fix the situation the moment it happened was overwhelming for me sometimes. I could not think it through and I felt attacked by all his questions. My heart for him was not to put him through the pain of silence and add to the fear of letting hurts pass and then build. His heart for me was not to attack me and what I was feeling. And when we realized that our hearts for each other were good, that helped change the way we had those conversations.
I was able to say, “I know your heart for me is good, but this situation made me feel this way.” As opposed to, “You suck and I want to punch you in the esophagus.”
I might not always fully grasp why he is feeling or processing a certain way, because that is not natural to me, but I sure can try to understand and respond in a way that I know will be helpful to him. Now, when we are in the middle of something and I feel overwhelmed about a situation, I say something along the lines of, “I do not know right now, but I will think about it and let you know.” Or “I need a little time to process through what I am feeling, and I will get back to you.” That is much better for his sweet little heart, as long as I actually do come back to him and don’t leave the poor guy hanging.
I cannot assume or expect that all others think, feel, and respond the same way that I do, especially Matt. And really thank goodness that we don’t because two of either of us would be an actual nightmare.