The other day my partner and I experienced a "rift" in our relationship. After being together 13 years, it's bound to happen, but this one was bigger than usual. The way things usually play out when I'm upset? Well, I'll start off by telling him how I feel, then he abruptly shuts down, then nothing is accomplished. Confrontation of any kind isn't his thing, but after years of dealing with magnified issues thanks to intentional avoidance, it's time to figure out other ways to deal. There's some things I wish I could say to my passive partner, but can't because I know how he'll react in a way that isn't beneficial. Thus, 'round and 'round we go, probably forever and ever and ever.
One of our first major "rifts" happened just a few weeks into our new relationship. We had yet to define the boundaries of conflict resolution within our fairly new relationship so every disagreement felt like a breakup. However, this time, I didn't see it coming. To me, things had been fine and we were happy, but he'd grown so used to being on his own, he left a voicemail telling me he needed a little time to himself.
Apparently, we'd spent too much time together and he felt swallowed up by it. I get it now, but back then his passivity — as in, his choice not to tell me directly — nearly ended our relationship before it began. Sadly, not much has changed. I still have feelings, and he'd still rather not deal with them if it's going to get uncomfortable. The one thing we can agree on? How much we love each other. With that, here's some of the things I wish I could say, but can't, because I'm always afraid I'll cause the rift.
"I'm Sorry, But I Need To Talk Things Through"
One of the worst ways to approach anyone, especially my partner, is by referencing a dire need to talk about something until it's resolved. Maybe it's just me, but even when it's nothing major I'd rather have an open line of communication. Isn't that part of being in a relationship? The ability to have someone to go to, talk things out, and lean on in times of need?
It's not to say my partner is never open to talking it out, but the vast majority of our deep conversations usually end with no resolution.
"It's Hard To Communicate With You"
I've mentioned, and in various ways, how hard it is to communicate with my partner, but it never sinks in. I have faults of my own (some of which probably don't help the situation), but at least I'm open to talking about our problems. Communicating with a passive partner, for me, ends in tears. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth the hassle at all.
"I Want To Talk Without You Shutting Down"
It's a fact that approaching my passive partner with an issue will automatically hit his "shut off" switch. He can't help it, honestly. It's a learned behavioral coping mechanism. Mine tends to be the opposite, which doesn't bode well for us as a thriving couple. Some days, it feels like I've tried every possible way to broach a subject without triggering his retreat, and some days I'm successful. For the most part, though, we continue playing this game where there are no winners.
"I Don't Feel Heard"
Most conversations my partner and I have — like the big, important ones — I feel like I'm talking, talking, talking but he isn't hearing a word of it. Even when he can repeat the sentences back, word for word, I know none of it is really registering. The cycle of trying, and failing, to have my voice heard is frustrating and yet, I can't imagine my life without him.
"I'm Not Like Your Parents"
Both of our individual coping strategies stem from childhood. While he watched his parents and how they dealt with their problems, he learned to avoid conflict by shutting down emotionally — something his father did. I, on the other hand, learned to speak up when I'm hurt because, when I was young, I wasn't allowed to. Through my adult years, I've found my voice and refuse to lose it again. Being on opposing ends of the communication spectrum is teaching me that.
"I Have My Own Issues I'm Fighting"
I know I can be abrasive when trying to convey feelings. I'm fiery and passionate about expressing them. All I want is for my partner to hear me, so when he's so passive I feel like a ghost. When I feel like I'm invisible, it only spurs the worst parts of me, making fixing whatever's broken that much harder.
"I Want To Find A Way To Fix This..."
I love my partner more than any words can express. We've been through so much together. Two kids, two pregnancy losses, and over a decade of laughter and memories. I don't want to lose anything we have, except the way we handle communication and arguments. I'd do anything to find a resolution that works for the both of us.
"...Or We May Not Survive"
I've been saying this for years, but without finding a way to meet in the middle, what do we have? Love, yes, but what is love without a partner you can discuss it with? That's the struggle. Of all the things I wish I could say to my passive partner, the most important is, "Let's start today."
We may not be perfect, but I know we're capable of finding our way. We've done it before, and we'll do it again.