Messy Conversations in Venice

We were in Venice.

And it was enchanting.

Completely enchanting. And magical.

We were off on 'Our One Last Adventure Before We Start Having Kids'...and we chose Europe as our destination.

So there we were, in magical Venice, wandering the moonlit streets together at night.

Let me say it again: it was enchanting

Well. Enchating to me, I should say.

Because when I looked over at my partner on this romantic stroll, he didn't look so enchanted. At least not by the moon and the narrow passageways and the water and the dreamy gondolas drifting by and the cozy little two-person restaurant tables.

The look on my husband Caleb's face was more in awe. In awe of the balance that the gondoliers were displaying by both paddling and the same time. 

We weren't holding hands. We weren't gazing into each other's eyes. We weren't slow dancing in the middle of the Pizzaza San Marco. Nope. I was standing there, feeling alone in the middle of this ultra-romantic setting, while my husband stood next to me, completely unaware of what I was feeling, while muttering under his breath, "How does he DO that?? I see that he keeps his feet there...and there...and I see that he only paddles on one's like a forward-paddle and then a swirl motion with the paddle. How does he make the boat turn so easily?? I wonder if I could get a gondolier to give me a lesson...maybe I should ask one of them..." and so on and so forth. His eyes were certainly not on me. They were analyzing the wonders of the paddling gondolier-man.

And I was offended.

"How can you be so engrossed in those stupid gondoliers when this is our chance to be in love in Venice together?" I thought. 

And just when his attention to the gondolier began to fade, his eyes shifted to the violinist in the middle of the Square. And the analyzing and the muttering began afresh. "He moves  his fingers so QUICKLY," I started hearing, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw his two hands come up and start imitating the violinist's movements.

At that point, I started to feel angry.

It's no fun at all to be angry about something and have to talk about it. Especially when you're on vacation and you're supposed to be having a wonderful time together. But I wasn't having a wonderful time anymore. I was angry, and disappointed, and even scared that we were falling out of love, because who can walk through the tiny streets of Venice and not look at each other? (Talk about jumping to a HUGE and irrational conclusion.)

So even though it was hard, right in the middle of our European vacation, I told Caleb about my fears and my feelings. It wasn't easy. It felt terrible. I felt like I was ruining our vacation by bringing it up. All my ideals of a romantic and perfect adventure were even farther away. I had to spell out how the combination of the moon and Venice and the canals felt so special and romantic for me, and admitting it made me feel silly and embarassed. It felt like he should just know what I was feeling, what I was thinking, and how romance works. It felt so contrived to put words to what I would have wanted Caleb to do. 

Like I said, It wasn't an easy conversation. It was messy. I was crying and getting angry...Caleb was confused and maybe even a little bit hurt when I mimicked his air-violin-playing. I think I even yelled in frustration at one point.

But in the end, we came to such a good place. An intimate place. A place of knowing each other better.

I found out that just being together, just being side-by-side watching the gondoliers and the violinist together, felt special, and even romantic, for Caleb. Just having me by his side was enough for him. He felt like we were together and sharing the specialness of the place, very much in love. He didn't feel the least bit concernd for us, or our love, or our romance.

But he learned that romance is completely different for me. I need face-to-face, hand-in-hand, talking-together interactions for me to feel like we're together and sharing the specialness of the place, very much in love.

That day, we learned a little bit more about each other: what's significant for each of us and how we interact with romance. And years later in our relationship, I am SO THANKFUL for putting the time and energy and COURAGE into that talk. It has guided and helped us so many times since then. But if I had been unwilling to be vulnerable, unwilling to bare myself and my messy emotions, I probably would have harbored resentment (and not even a right conclusion) for a long time. I would have concluded that my husband is this non-romantic analyzing caveman who doesn't really even care about me at all, and that we're no longer in love anymore. Talk about a devastating conclusion!

But, instead, we grew in our intimacy and love through that difficult conversation.

Based on that conversation and many others like it, messy conversations and arguments where it feels like we'll never make it through, but we end up coming out on the other side knowing and loving each other more, I have some suggestions for anyone else embarking on similar experiences in discussions.

  1. For husbands, if I could tell you anything, I'd tell you to listen. Listen to what your wife says, listen to the emotions behind it, listen to what she's not saying, listen to the fear behind her anger, listen to what she feels like she's losing. You'll probably want to defend yourself as soon as she starts talking, because she'll probably be angry, and in her anger, she might be messy and say messy things. But what she really needs is you just to stop defending yourself and why you did what you did, and just listen. She doesn't need you to argue. She needs you to love her by listening. 
  2. Husbands, one way you can do this is to try to draw out more of what she has 'inside' of her. So if she says one thing, ask her questions about that. Try to understand the depth of what she's saying. Try to hear more. Try to listen to what she feels under what she's saying. And when you think you understand what she's feeling deep inside, try to repeat it back to her: "What I hear you saying is that you feel _____ because _____." If she feels really listened to, really understood, you've already won half the battle. You're already like 3/4 of the way to greater intimacy and a good resolution.
  3. Wives, watch out for ideals! Like me, you might feel like talking about your messy emotions ruins the specialness of whatever you're doing, like a vacation or an anniversary or a date, but you saying how you really feel inside will most likely lead to a good place and not a bad place if you are both willing to keep talking it out. 
  4. And wives, try to remember that your conclusion about why your husband is doing what he's doing and your conclusion about the way that he is, is probably wrong. Yes, wrong. He's probably got more going on in his mind, and it's probably alot harder and scarier to be the leader, than you can imagine. He's probably got reasons for why he's doing what he's doing. He's not a jerk-monster through and through. He's a human with feelings...just like you. So give him the benefit of the doubt and ASK QUESTIONS about what he's doing instead of accusing him of your worst conclusions. Leave room in your mind for extra information that you don't know yet. Slow down and ask questions like, "What are you thinking when you ____?" and "What are you valuing when you do ____?"

Love needs intimacy to grow. And intimacy is all about knowing each other in the raw, real, nitty-gritty places of your emotions. We tend to think that love will grow as we pretend that everything is alright and we're always happy all the time, like if we just pretend something is true, it will be. But marriage doesn't work that way. Some of the best places in marriage can only be reached through the hard road of getting messy feelings out on the table.