Barbara L. Green, LCSW



"The Snow Had Finally Stopped Falling"

The snow had finally stopped falling. Peter and I had not been outside for 24 hours. Vacation was almost over, and I was eager to make the most of our last few days. I suggested we go out dancing. I knew Peter didn't particularly like to dance, but I hoped my appeal for an "end of vacation special evening" would persuade him. He expressed concern over the snowy road conditions. I pointed out that the major roads looked clear. He suggested a few alternate plans. I didn't respond to his suggestions. Peter reluctantly agreed to go dancing. I ignored his reluctance and told myself we'd have fun once we got there. 

The evening did not go well. 

On the positive side, we had a good meal, and we danced. On the negative side, Peter was uncharacteristically irritable and remote. I alternated between feeling grateful we were dancing at all and feeling annoyed that Peter seemed so distant. As we drove home, there was an uncomfortable tension and neither of us said very much. What had gone wrong? We returned home late and then we made the best decision of the evening: We decided not to talk about it! 

We both made an effort to have a pleasant "good night," including some snuggling and small talk. Maybe we were thinking of the medical dictum, "First do no harm." I think neither of us wanted to make the situation any worse. 

Better rested and less emotionally reactive the next afternoon, we had a productive conversation about the dancing disaster. This was the essence of the conversation: 

I said I felt sad at the end of the evening but also guilty for not being grateful that he had agreed to go dancing. 

He said my sadness made sense because he hadn't been very "present" most of the night. 

He said he felt he didn't have a choice about going out, and that made him feel resentful. He wanted me to be happy, but he really had been both tired and truly concerned about road conditions. 

I said I had wanted the evening to be special, and I was afraid he wanted to just stay home all night. 

He said he had liked the idea of a special evening but didn't think that meant we had to drive 30 minutes to go dancing. We could have gone for a walk to a nice place for dinner and then come home and put music on for dancing. 

I said that would have been a wonderful way to end the vacation. 

The conversation was a good one; we both felt relieved and reconnected. Many people say never go to bed angry -- always resolve conflicts immediately. But for Peter and I, waiting a few hours or even a few days often helps. We each cool off a bit and then are more able to see the other's point of view. We're also more able to examine our own assumptions that may have interfered with a good outcome. Maybe those extra hours allow us to each "mature" just enough that, with hindsight, we can think more clearly and more compassionately than we can in the heat of the moment. Just in case, however, next time I suggest going out dancing, I'm going to make sure there is no snow on the ground!