Recently, I overheard my next door neighbours arguing. By the time it reached its crescendo, they were practically screaming at each other. When one got louder and higher pitched, so did the other. After a couple of minutes it was silent. I don’t know what happened next because it was behind closed doors, and no one really knows what’s going on unless you’re behind those doors yourself.
It reminded me of how couples might argue – but also reminded me of how when my ex-husband and I had a disagreement, nothing like that happened at all.
He would close down communication and blame me from the start – say I was dramatic, I was angry, I was stressed, I was horrid for being nasty to him. This was at the absolute first sign of a whiff of discord. He’d already told me he didn’t like conflict and there I was bringing something up, being nasty to him.
He’d only ever accuse me and blame me. Never listen, never resolve. In his mind, every problem arrived external to him. He blamed me for everything.
He wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t engage in equal communication. Thinking about it now, it seems very immature. I’m sure a psychotherapist would have a good chance of dealing with what I never could, although that would require admission of vulnerability and a possibility of requiring help, and I can’t imagine these qualities being forthcoming.
Quite early on in our relationship, we were doing the dished together one evening and I became so frustrated with his boring perpetual monologues and his utter absence of listening and non-existence of normal facial expressions, that I smashed a plate on the hard tiled floor to see whether he would react.
The daft thing is I walked right into his trap!
I became the dramatic, strange aggressive person that he’d already said I was! But I had a purpose behind my seemingly odd behaviour – to see whether he was a normal human being after all.
But he didn’t react. He didn’t look quizzical, angry, sympathetic, bemused – nothing. He didn’t jump with fright away from the shattered pieces. He stood there motionless and didn’t speak, before his nostrils flared, just slightly. He held his head up high and silently seethed at me, looking at me with pure contempt. I found his behaviour somewhere verging on terrifying. Then he walked out.
I suppose I was testing his reactions – and in my opinion at the time he didn’t react normally. But then I didn’t DO anything about his lack of reaction. It didn’t take it as evidence of his oddness being unacceptable and decide that the relationship was not a healthy one.
So what was the point in my test? To frighten myself? What should I have done? I could have said, bloody hell, that was completely abnormal – looks like he’s not worth my time, better make plans to pack my bags here (which would have been the right response).
But instead, this happened…
I stood there wondering what on earth was coming next. I was quite trembly and nervous. After a while he called me on the phone from outside and said, with cool passive aggression, that he would allow me time to clear it up before he came back in.
He glared at me through the window and the look he gave me was pure contempt. I was scared of him.
I felt intimidated and I started to wonder perhaps there was something wrong with me for randomly smashing a plate. I felt out of control. By the time he came back in I had cleared the plate up and I was shaking with fright. I didn’t really understand what was happening. His reactions didn’t seem normal to me. At no point did he ask why I had smashed the plate. At no point did we get to discuss anything of importance or relevance and we never went back to whatever the previous conversation was, which must have been bizarre enough for me to feel like I needed it to stop by the physical act of smashing a plate.
Nothing was resolved. He asserted his control. The inference was that whatever lengths I went to go get myself understood or to communicate with him or failing that, to simply provoke a reaction, it was not going to work.
NOTHING I did was going to work, because HE was in control – not me.
I was supposed to just shut up and allow him to be the one in control.