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On Communication

I said in my previous post that I had two things I wanted to talk about: help, and love as endurance.

People who are familiar with my writing in other venues will probably not be shocked to know that I now have three things to write about. The third thing - communication - comes courtesy of my husband. My husband is my external editor, and I often run things past him before I post them. He's not a censor, but he will often point out ways in which my words might be misinterpreted.

Yesterday's blog was given the immediate okay, but as I was cleaning up the multiple typist typos, he said something I've been thinking about ever since: He was incredibly grateful that I was able to clearly communicate my needs and the source of my pain in our early arguments.

I haven't thought much about those arguments since that first year, because any new couple has arguments. Any two people who are going to be living together as themselves are going to step on things they didn't know existed, as they learn to navigate the shoals of each other's expectations and needs. It's almost impossible not to cause pain, because as we open up to each other, we're vastly more vulnerable than we were when we were in our more 'social among acquaintances' mode, and although we profess to love each other, we do not yet know each other.

Learning is hard. Learning when we have automatic responses about what's 'normal' or 'reasonable' is even harder, because we have the usual insecurities about ourselves, and we have the sense that we should be a certain type of person -- even if we're not. If we insist, in private, that we are that reasonable, normal person, but still have the emotional reflexes of some entirely different person, we are sending vastly mixed signals.

One of the words that left our vocabulary upon advent of the oldest son was 'normal'. 'That's not normal' was - and is - a phrase I grew to hate. But the ability to ditch it entirely started before that point, in the early years of our relationship.

I cannot remember, at this point, what I was upset about, but in our first year of living together something minor had upset me. I knew that my husband was rational and reasonable, and that I should be rational and reasonable, so I didn't say anything. But…I was still upset, and instead of discussing whatever it was, I said nothing - and incubated the anger instead.

By the end of the week, everything made me angry. I think I finally flipped out about where he'd put his shoes when he got in from work (itself not a terribly reasonable thing). This surprised him, of course, but he'd known for the week that something was bothering me.

The reason I remember the argument is the resolution. I wish I remember what it was that had first upset me - because I think it would be instructive. Sadly, it's gone. The resolution, however, continues to this day. He said: "I don't need you to be reasonable or normal. I'm not with you because you're any of those things. If something is bothering you, it's something I have to learn to understand and deal with because it's you I'm living with. If I've done something that's hurt you, I want you tell me right away so we can work it out then." (And not, you know, have a week of me stewing in an effort not to say anything. I am not famously reserved in my anger.)

We have a sense that love = knowledge. Therefore, if someone loves me, they will understand me. I think this comes from our lives as very young children, where our parents, who loved us, mostly did.

But this doesn't work as well for two adults. Do I want to be understood? Yes. Yes, I do. Did I expect my husband to understand me because he loved me? Yes and no.

No. Not on an intellectual level. On an emotional level, yes. So there was always the tension between these two states: the certainty that no one is a mind-reader and the feeling that if he loves me, how could he miss something so important?

But he was open to discussion. And boy, that was a good thing. What we learned was that even the phrase "I'm hurt" has a weight and meaning that is entirely contextual to our individual lives. He came to the table because he honestly cared and he thought we could work through things. I came to the table believing that if I could make him understand, we would not be in this place again. What I had to do was explain myself clearly enough. I had to get past "I'm hurt" to understand what had hurt me, why it had hurt me, and what the mechanisms of my own pain were.

Off the table were things like "well you shouldn't feel that way". It was irrelevant, because clearly, I did. What was relevant in that small space was just the people we actually were. But I remember we spent six hours one night working through something. Because I explained it, and…no lightbulb went on. I knew that what I'd said did not make sense to him. He could follow the words, of course - but he couldn't follow the thread of the emotional effect to see why I was upset, because in the same circumstance, he wouldn't be; he couldn't turn the words into a set of causal circumstances on which he could act. He was not me, and couldn't think like me.

I'm a writer.

I've written scenes which I know should have a certain weight, a certain emotional resonance, a certain feeling.

I've sometimes discovered that those scenes don't do what I intended, and I trash them, and start again, because writing is, in part, about communication. I won't reach everyone, no matter how well I write--but in the case of this type of discussion, I only have to reach one person, and he is sitting across the table from me.

I've seen arguments in which the base statement, when it fails to sink in, is repeated at louder and louder volumes, because the person who has made the statement has explained. They know what they feel and they know what they mean and they've explained it in actual, honest words, and the person is therefore not listening. I've actually had those arguments. This type of communication was a personal evolution.

Sitting across the table, I realized that the person was listening. I had explained. I had explained clearly and cogently. I had been honest about the pain, and why I felt it. But our experiences were so different in so many ways, that the explanation made no sense to him. I could have repeated the words, but since the words hadn't worked the first time, and since he was still sitting there and waiting, I had to revise.

I had to revise, the way I will revise when I write a scene that doesn't work the first time out. I had to take all the same elements, the same characteristics, the same focal points--but frame them in an entirely different way. I had to use different analogies. Different metaphors.

I could not have done this if he was not willing to sit across that table until I found the right words. I had to have faith that if I could make this clear, we would never have this problem again.

And in the same way as that early argument above, I can remember the process, but not the reason for it; I honestly cannot remember what that fight was about. Once we work through something, it lets go of me.

I think I went through twenty iterations, trying to find an analogous situation in his life, a set of circumstances that he might face that would cause the him the pain I was feeling. Because in some ways, pain is a common experience. The things that cause pain are different. I had to explain my pain in terms that he could grasp and apply to himself, because if he could, he would understand, and he could build from that.

It was an interesting - and important - exercise. I had to accept that telling him how I felt would not give him the tools to avoid causing the same pain. I had to break down how I felt - for myself, and examine its essential structure - in order to rebuild an explanation that was general enough and specific enough, that it would reach him.

Conversely, he had to sit there, while I was angry (at him) and in pain, and while I struggled with words and with - yes, sadly - frustration. He doesn't have the temper I do; he doesn't really have a temper that is in any way demonstrative. It was not easy for him either, and I realized - with effort - that it wasn't. He believed, sitting there, asking questions which clearly showed I had still not made my point, that there was an explanation and that with work, with effort, he could understand it.

And then, finally, at about five and a half hours, his eyes rounded, because I had finally come up with an analogy that worked for him. I wanted to cry. He could follow the thread of the explanation from start to finish.

This was work, on his part. It was work on mine. Communication is not, and was not, as simple as honesty - but without honesty, the attempt couldn't have been made.

And I think the most important points about communication were these:

1. He accepted that he had caused me pain, and accepted that it was valid. Other people's opinions on its validity were irrelevant because those other people weren't part of the relationship.

2. I accepted that there was no intent to cause pain. I was in pain, but it was not an act of malice on his part. Causing him pain in return would not be an act of justice - it would be an act of malice.

3. We were always, always, on the same side. The only 'win' condition was understanding. Everything else was a loss.

He had, of course, already apologized - but apology is not prevention, and we both knew it.

Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
green_knight
May. 23rd, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
That is beautiful. And I am glad that you both took the time and found the words and _communicated_.

Thank you for sharing. This is a tremendously hopeful post.
msagara
May. 24th, 2012 01:34 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing. This is a tremendously hopeful post.

Thank you!

I think it's hard because people often say we need to communicate with each other, but they don't always realize that even when we try, even when we're up front, actual understanding is not always the result.

Also, I sometimes think that "you hurt me" is taken as an accusation of fault or flaw, so people have a strong knee-jerk reaction when they did not, in fact, intend to hurt someone, and in defense of themselves, they can often immediately attempt to negate the accusation: by dismissing the pain, by dismissing the validity of it ('that wouldn't bother a normal person'), etc.

It's hardest when the knee-jerk reaction is the first reaction, and then, after a cool-down, the person starts to think - because the other person has essentially been put in a position where their feelings aren't supposed to count. So they are now unhappy and they are still angry and hurt, and it's hard to expose all the reasons to someone who has already told them all of their reasons don't count.

But I honestly believe if you can hold on to trust - even in the face of strong emotional reactions - people can communicate and work things out in a way that strengthens their relationship.
finnyb
May. 24th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
This is true, all that you have written. My problem is that, between the type of life I had growing up and my own autistic-ness, not only do I have trouble finding the right words, I frequently do not even know the words exist in the first place. This makes things very hard.

For example, ever since I was little I've known that I cannot recognize people unless I know them really, really, really well (and even then, unless they are in front of me, or a picture of them is in front of me, I will not be able to tell you what they look like--not even the husband-person). However, I did not know that there is a word for this ("faceblindness") until last year. And, in absence of the word, in not even knowing the word existed, when I tried to explain things to people, about how this experience was to me, and why I have so much trouble (particularly working retail) with some things, I was not able to get people to understand. Even with the word, it doesn't always work, but I stand a better chance.
amber_fool
May. 27th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
As an aside, if you don't mind me asking, does that make it very difficult to work in retail? I'm bad with faces/names (and am useless watching a movie if I can't tell characters apart by race/hair color/uniform/distinguishing characteristic), and I can't imagine how much worse it would be in a line of work where you might see someone once every couple of weeks (depending on the type of retail).
finnyb
May. 28th, 2012 12:49 am (UTC)
Oh, yes it makes retail jobs very hard. Even my current job, which is not retail, I get co-workers mixed up, or I don't recognize them even if I see them all the time (unless they are actually on my team at work, and then I can recognize them, most of the time). And yeah, I'm useless at movies and TV for the same reason--that's part of why I like shows like Power Rangers so much--the characters always tend to wear the same colour clothes!
amber_fool
May. 28th, 2012 01:00 am (UTC)
Bravo to you (and your co-workers, as I imagine it's a bit confusing for them at first) for sorting out ways to work around that. It can't have been easy. :) I'm not anywhere near that extreme - I just started out with a so-so memory for names and faces (especially if they come a bunch at once or if I get a bunch of similar-looking people at once) and then added on a couple of neurological issues and their corresponding drug treatments doing who-knows-what to my brain.
finnyb
May. 29th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
It's definitely confusing for my co-workers; some of them make fun of me, but most of them are okay with it, or at least pretend to be. Either way, it's not easy, though.
seabream
May. 24th, 2012 07:16 am (UTC)
Mmm. I greatly admire your ability to clearly break down certain types of social processes, and I'm thankful that you do so in publicly accessible forums. In particular, the way you construct explanations that are "general enough and specific enough" that the nuances and caution that need to be applied in situations similar to those being described, is significantly more useful than what many writing on the same issue do. I mostly agree with your thoughts as I understand them.

Not to make this about me, but there are relevant expansions from personal experience, or those of acquaintances, that I hope are okay to make. I admit the possibility that I'm misreading what you wrote, and thus making unwarranted qualifications. If so, my shame and apologies. I've only read it four times, and my sleep wake schedule has been unusual for me for the past week, but if I do my usual thing of waiting until I think I'm really ready, it might be next year.

While the straight "well you shouldn't feel that way", is problematic, and not useful, one also doesn't want to say that people's thoughts, feelings, and reactions should not be examined, and through examination, change, if they are amenable, and if it makes them and the relationship more whole, just because they're their own person and not these other people. It's a thing one does for instance, in anger management, addiction treatment, with obsessive personalities, with depression. It needs to happen sometimes between family members or friends around issues where the implications are wide enough to draw in whole swaths of other social interactions - like religious beliefs, or coming out queer (It's maybe on my mind more than usual as I'm halfway through this year's InsideOut LGBT film festival. Modern filmic conventions being what they are, it isn't the best medium for long involved conversations. The ways that the storytelling manages to work its way around not having offspring say to their parents that their being trans or gay is not about being disrespectful, and really, kicking them out of the house is not truly an act of love, is actually kind of interesting, but also makes me cringe.). I know that you didn't wholly exclude those, but I thought it important to mention that there are times when it isn't wrong to say that it would be healthy to evaluate one's perspective about something they feel strongly about, that one doesn't have to feel that way, and could they please consider it. It's often ineffective, but that doesn't make it not worthwhile occasionally.
msagara
May. 24th, 2012 07:54 am (UTC)
There are many ways to communicate, and not all of them are verbal. I think in words; my husband thinks in words. This makes the primary form of thought and interaction at least similar. We don't use words the same way, but we think in words.

There are some couples for whom words are difficult, and some halves of couples for whom words are difficult, especially when they're emotional. The live and parse things far more intuitively.

But in the example above - and it's only one - the assumption I make is that the goal of the discussion/argument is to further understanding.

In the case, for instance, in which a parent is absolutely horrified and enraged when their child comes out (and I saw a lot of this in high school), there is no such goal. It's not the same type of discussion; it's not a case in which there's a concerted effort to be on the same side.

Sometimes time changes that. Sometimes seeing that your children have not destroyed their lives by their decisions will also change that. People don't like change; many people find it threatening, and it takes time to absorb and deal with all of the assumptions and anger, and to process them, accept them, and open up.

Sometimes this never happens.

If my husband were an entirely different person - if he were, for instance, one who said "this isn't a problem for me - so it's your problem and you have to learn how to deal with it", and that was the extent of the discussion, we wouldn't be together, because we would not be compatible. His starting point was "this isn't a problem I would have, but if it is causing you pain, it is a problem for me, because I don't want to cause you pain."

Ummm, I may have misinterpreted the point you were trying to make, though. I am assuming that you are saying that sometimes we need to examine - and possible let go of - our feelings and positions in order to compromise. I can see cases in which that's true, but I think it's part of the process.

There are certainly things I had to examine and let go of; there are at least as many things that he examined in the same way. But I had to know - for myself - which was which. There were some things I let go of (my husband cannot be on time to save his life, and I was raised in a household where I was grounded for a week for being 5 minutes late) - but the decision was, and had to be, mine.
(Deleted comment)
msagara
May. 24th, 2012 07:56 am (UTC)
Sometimes it's so hard to just sort out and speak what the problem is for yourself, and then it's so much more difficult when you find your explanation does not automatically click.

Yes! It was hardest at the start, and easier when I had a better handle on the metaphors that were helpful in these discussions, and most people are not going to sit still for 6 hours beating their heads against the wall of different contexts. But we had incentive, and we were willing to do that work.

la_marquise_de_
May. 24th, 2012 10:38 am (UTC)
That is very sane. The marquis and I have reached somewhere similar, I think, but with far less order and calm and with the realisation that some things will always matter more to one of us than the other.
Thank you.
msagara
May. 24th, 2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
That is very sane.

The problem with using very specific examples is it does sound saner than it probably was. I'm looking at events that are two decades old through the lens of the lessons I learned - but there's an objectivity to retrospective that really doesn't exist in the moment, if that makes sense?

It's why I really, really wish I remembered what had sparked the arguments in both cases - and I really don't, and can't =/. Remembering what had caused them would add that level of emotional viscerality to the situation.

But I really do forget them when they've been resolved =/.
la_marquise_de_
May. 24th, 2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
I think that's a measure of a successful relationship.
estara
May. 24th, 2012 11:24 am (UTC)
I think I could follow your whole explanation and I am fascinated by having the different stages articulated and realising that this is how it could work if I had the tools and someone else was interested in making communication work,too.

I don't think I know more than two people well enough that I could formulate examples I know about in their lives to make them understand me. This problem is heightened because I am very self-centred and relate lots of things to my own experiences (this part especially resonated for me in the Help post before this).

The closest I got to at least talking about a real problem one of the two people, my father, had with me so that he articulated it, was provoking him until he shouted at me and me trying to explain my side of things in tears. I only did that twice in my life (I was unable to stand-up to my father when he was angry until I was 21), mostly because it is emotionally exhausting (plain painful, too) and while it clarified for me what sort of problem he had with me, it never lead to an improvement of the situation, because I did not necessarily feel during those two occasions that *I* was at fault, so nothing changed.

I am self-aware enough (probably because of having my father as the bad example) that I haven't inflicted my skewed perspective on a relationship, apart from casual friendship.
msagara
May. 24th, 2012 08:37 pm (UTC)
I am self-aware enough (probably because of having my father as the bad example) that I haven't inflicted my skewed perspective on a relationship, apart from casual friendship.

I'm of the firm belief that we all have a skewed perspective, though. There are some things that we pick up from our upbringing and our early surroundings, and we can examine them and let them go. But there are some that we can't fully disentangle, and I think it's those things - no matter how strange they might be - that communication can uncover.

I think it's important to own our needs. It's tricky to separate out 'I want this' from 'i need this', but if we can own the needs, we can work around them. If we can't, the needs often still exist, but they're not being met and it makes things harder.

Sometimes people's needs clash; they don't mesh.

If I need to eat popsicles every morning, it's going to raise eyebrows, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not in any way harmful. If I need to self-harm, it's going to be a huge issue; it's something that needs a different framework.

I don't consider the popsicles a particular difficulty.

I would find the self-harm hard, and I would be looking at the entire framework to see if there's something in the environment that makes self-harm the only necessary release. Umm, I realize these are two extreme examples.
estara
May. 25th, 2012 08:37 am (UTC)
No problem - the way you work your examples (extremes and all) is something I try doing at school to explain problematic grammar or misunderstandings about English, etc. too.

I believe I know what my most basic needs are, the ones I am unwilling to compromise on, but I question my ability to recognise the important needs of other people and find enough common ground to communicate about them to other people.
controuble
May. 25th, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
I actually cried in my son's therapist's office today. I was explaining these last two posts of yours to him and explaining how I felt they applied to my interactions with my son. I have been trying for years to figure out what my son needs - he is full of wants, but he is not willing to talk about anything.

Oh, he talks to me - or rather, at me - about X-Men or Pokemon or telling me yet another made-up knock-knock joke or whatever his most recent question about which superpower I would want to have, but never about anything serious. There are times I could cheerfully strangle the person who introduced him to GameBoy and Pokemon. Can it really be a need to play games all the time? No, to be fair, he does spend time watching television - and not usually cartoons. As someone working on the new DSM-V put it, "A monologue about Pokemon is not a conversation."

I think communication can only happen between two people who are willing to work at it, it cannot work when only one person is.
msagara
May. 25th, 2012 03:27 am (UTC)
Let me tell you a little story.

We were required, for a variety of reasons, to attend "speech therapy" classes. In Toronto, those are code for "ASD" classes, because all of the children there (there were 8) had been diagnosed ASD. It was interesting because they broke down the middle (they were between the ages of 4 and 6, and all were boys). Four of the boys were like my oldest son at that age - but less hyper and less frenetic; four of the boys were quiet, focused, and utterly silent.

For the quiet boys, the goal was to get them to engage in discussion.

My oldest, at the time, was 9 years old. He could, and did, engage in discussion - although the hour long inventory of the thing that was on his mind was also common, it was no longer the sole focus of his words.

One of the fathers of one of the four silent boys asked me how it was that my oldest could now engage in discussion like this - what had we done?

What we had not done was follow the instructions that were being given in the the very frustrating class.

And I said: In order for an ASD child - who has some social difficulties interacting with people, regardless - to want to talk to other people, he has to have incentive to talk at all. All four of these little boys had the things they were obsessing about - fire-trucks, trains, weather satellites and... I can't remember the last one.

But what I had noticed immediately in this class was that if these boys began to talk about the things that excited and engaged them they were immediately cut off. Because, of course, obsessive monologues are not conversation - and, worse, not normal.

I may have mentioned I hate that phrase.

This man's son was one of those four, and I said: We let our oldest son monologue. He was excited and he wanted to share. It did not make sense to us to cut him off every time he tried because if he had no incentive to engage, why would he bother? His obsessions were his only incentive; they were his joy and delight. Cut those off and...we guessed there would be silence. Did he know how to talk about things that didn't interest him? No. No, he didn't. But what was his incentive to start talking at all if he wasn't allowed to talk about the things that did?

As he got older, we were able to interrupt him. We were able to ask him to wait his turn. We were able to ask questions, and to shift parts of the monologue into something that resembled discussion. He was willing to do this at the beginning, because if he did, he would then be allowed to share what he really wanted to talk about.

What he learned was that talking could be fun. If he couldn't learn that at all, what was the point of talking? Why make the difficult effort? And as he grew accustomed to waiting, as he developed, he began to find some of the things we discussed interesting. He began to ask questions about topics that he had not introduced, because he understood on a basic level that talking could be … fun.

The father just looked at me (it was, of course, me, and I was perhaps a little more vehement than any other parent in the room generally got), and said, "You know, that never occurred to me."
controuble
May. 25th, 2012 03:44 am (UTC)
I do let him monologue at times. He can be redirected - usually - and is an excellent student getting top grades (thank goodness we have a wonderful school district with a small special needs high school - he would never survive in a full-sized high school.)

He is willing to talk about new things - he absolutely loves watching Science channel and Discovery channel and asks me when there's anything he doesn't understand (which is actually pretty rare) or tries to apply what they're talking about to our everyday life. I think the latest kick was supernovas, but I don't remember what he wanted me to do with one.

What he refuses to talk about is himself - not in any way, shape, or form. Not likes or dislikes and especially not his feelings. The only clues I get are when he explodes and then I have to try and figure out what I did in the last half hour or so that might have triggered it - it's not always the last thing before the explosion. If I guess correctly, he sometimes will at least give me a yes or no, but not always.
msagara
May. 25th, 2012 04:53 am (UTC)
What he refuses to talk about is himself - not in any way, shape, or form. Not likes or dislikes and especially not his feelings.

Ah. This is a totally different thing.

My oldest did not talk about his feelings, his likes, or his dislikes. In part, this is because he didn't have the words for them (when he was younger, and he was asked, by the woman evaluating him, how "joy" and "anger" were similar, he finally said: They both make your heart beat faster).

This did not mean, of course, that he didn't have any; he didn't have the tools to discuss them because he didn't have the words for them. In that, we were probably not as useful as the educational aide that worked with him for most of his grade two class.

I actually stopped writing the ASD-related posts because I got snowed under with the usual insane deadlines, so I'm not sure that I reached that point. I'll write that one for tomorrow, but the short story is: when he (eta: the educational aide) realized that we, as his parents, didn't particularly care if his Aspergers was directly addressed, he began to incorporate emotional words into their daily educational exercises. So, if he was playing Hangman with my son, he would use words like: friendship, trust, love, respect.

It was not something that had occurred to me at the time.

Even when he was older, at, say, thirteen, he did not like to discuss the things for which he had no language. It was a barrier. But...none of us are big "talk about your feelings" people. He would, as he got older, discuss things that upset him or confused him, because he at that point believed I could explain them in a way that would help him make sense of them.

But that was sort of a direct result of all those earlier discussions about computer games. He expected me to make sense, because in the early years, I had.

He still doesn't talk about things like that all that much. He listens to others talk about them, he assesses what he's heard, he sometimes brings up a point or two - but talking about his feelings to us isn't a priority for him.

HOWEVER... he is perfectly capable of talking about them with his girlfriend. They are relevant to both of them in a way that they weren't relevant to his relationship with us, if that makes sense?

Edited at 2012-05-25 04:54 am (UTC)
controuble
May. 25th, 2012 05:32 am (UTC)
Girlfriend - there's a scary thought - my son is 16, so it will probably pop up sooner rather than later.

I think what bothers me the most is that no matter how many times I tell him I can't fix or change something if I don't know it bothers/annoys/hurts him, he won't tell me when something is.

Thank you for 'listening' and for the explanations of how you and your family got through them.

OT: Will you be coming to Chicon? If so, stop by the art show and say Hi. I'm running it, so not likely to get out of there all week.

msagara
May. 29th, 2012 09:45 pm (UTC)
OT: Will you be coming to Chicon? If so, stop by the art show and say Hi. I'm running it, so not likely to get out of there all week.

We (we being husband and I, not parasites and I) will definitely be coming to Chicago, and will definitely drop by the Art Show (we would do that anyway, but now that I know you’re running it, will make sure to say hi :))
mtlawson
May. 29th, 2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
(I'm a bit behind on my LJ reading, so I finally got back to this post today.)

I've been on the receiving end of a lot of the 'stewing for a week until the explosion' arguments, so yeah, I know where you're coming from. I know that we weren't able to figure this all out immediately, and for your husband to be able to do that is a really good thing.
thestormcellar
Jul. 19th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)
This reminds of a couple things that happened with my fiance and I when we first started dating.

First, he had asked if we wanted to go to some bar outing with friends and had said that we'd both be there before he had asked me. I ended up finding out through one of the friends saying to me, "I'll see you at such and such." I had to let him know that while if he had asked me before committing us to going to said function, I would have said yes, that I did appreciate being asked and did not like to have my choice taken away. In the 5 years we've been together, he has never failed to ask me before committing us to anything again.

Second, he's an introvert, and when he gets upset or stressed he tends to pull into himself and hide a bit. Early in the relationship, I didn't realize that his pulling away had nothing whatsoever to do with me and I got a little scared that he was going to break things off. I explained how I felt, and he explained to me what was going on, that this was part of who he is, and he was going to do this pulling away thing from time to time. We made an agreement that when he starts to feel like he needs to close himself off, all he has to do is say, "I need to be alone." and I would then know that it was OK to just let him be, and that he'd return when he was ready. This agreement has diffused a lot of angst from our relationship, because I trust that he'll tell me what he needs when he needs it, and he trusts that I will let him take that space when he needs to.
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