He said, she heard

M and I had a disagreement this morning that rapidly escalated into an argument. Not a big or even particularly significant argument, but I was thinking about it enroute to the office so we could revisit it later, when cooler and calmer heads prevail.

To demonstrate how insignificant, it was about the cat bowls. Yep, we had an argument about the bowls we use to feed the fluffbuckets. We have a couple of dishes, one of which has taller sides that we have been using for the wet food and another, shallower dish for dry food. The tall dish is the superior one, because food stays in the bowl, whereas we routinely have kibble splashed around the bowls on the deck. Mostly we will pick it up and throw it away, because if we don’t the roving bands of racoons, skunks, and possums visit our back door and engage in other destructive activities.

My thought was why not switch bowls – kibble in the taller, wet food in the shorter because it tends to not get out of the bowl. I brightly, earnestly suggested it to M for his thoughts, and he very exasperatedly told me we had previously tried that and all the very simple reasons (which I apparently must know from previous lectures conversations on the subject) why it is a bad idea. His tone and condescending manner triggered a negative reaction from me, in which I threw my hands up in frustration and said “okay, fine!” in reply and walked away.

His intent was good – we have tried it previously, it did not work – and I obviously do not remember the experiment. However, what I heard was “I cannot believe you’re bringing this up again! Are you stupid or what?” It gave me the strong feeling and impression that he was berating me for a dumb idea previously tried and failed. Of course I did not appreciate that, and since he was not actually saying that in words, I walked away in order to maintain the peace and not escalate it into a screaming mimi of a fight.

It reminds me that we do not always communicate effectively or in the most positive manner. We are both intelligent people and have our own strong opinions and expectations … obviously about cat feeding dishes in this instance. But while we can disagree and debate the finer points, there is no circumstance in our world where we should be demeaning or condescending to each other. I know it is not intentional when it happens, unless one of us has become irrational and hysterical, but it does happen. I do not need to be told I am wrong for feeling my interpretation of his tone and words, because while I know his intent was not malicious, my mood or circumstances overrode the reality of what he meant and what he said. It is what I heard in his words and tone, and we both know from long experience that when M becomes defensive in such dust ups he may go there and tell me how I should feel.

To be fair I was the one who got upset and abruptly cut off the discussion. Had he just let it go I would have gotten over it and forgotten about it quickly. Instead he had to pursue it with me, knowing I’m irritated, and it became an argument. Over cat feeding dishes. But communication is so critical, even bad communication has its value in trying to avoid it.

I know there are a lot of times, a lot of conversations where I am simply so tired of hearing the same complaints and offering the same suggestions (unheeded) over and over my fatigue shows in short-tempered irritation. It’s bad form on my part, but if I have no new ideas to resolve the problem I am not sure what else to do other than repeat myself ad nauseam. M knows this, and he forgives, just as I do for his driving me batshit crazy with the whining about things well beyond my control and his own stubborness to call for professional assistance. But we both try to be careful and recognize and not trip the triggers that will escalate into flailing arms, clenching teeth, and harsh, sharp word exchanges at very high volumes.  After this much time we have learned a few things about the land mines in our personalities.

Writing about it helps me process that this is just about my not remembering that we had tested other methods with the food dishes. This discussion this morning was not a substitute argument for bigger problems in some other aspect of our marriage. But it reminds me that words matter, to be careful what we say to each other in the heat of the moment. This morning we were, as we usually are, and I am laughing thinking about arguing with him about sometehing so trivial. Really, we just need to get to the pet store and buy a few more bowls with taller walls and a placemat for the food dishes to resolve the whole problem.

Most of the time I think we have a pretty normal marriage. I remind myself that “normal” is a pretty broad scale and includes occasional arguments about small ball topics.

2 thoughts on “He said, she heard

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