Reminder, Chicago people, Story Club South Side is tonight at 7:30 pm. It will be awkward in the best possible ways.
Hi Captain and Crew,
My partner and I have been together about eight years, and living together for most of that time. I think we’ve learnt a lot about working with each other’s boundaries and habits, and it’s generally going well.
I’m easily socially stressed and like a lot of space away from everyone. Currently Partner is working full time and I’m studying part time with a lot of working from home, so I get a lot of time to myself through the day and that works out really well.
Recently Partner has needed to take some time off so he’s been at home more than usual. It’s a temporary situation and it’s basically okay, but does leave me more drained than usual. He’s aware of the issue and makes an effort to leave me in peace, but just having another person in the house has an impact on me. I’m a lot more comfortable than I would have been even a year or two ago but it’s an ongoing process.
The real issue comes when I try to express how I’m doing, intended as something like “Heads up I’m starting to feel a bit stressed out and flakey”. I know they aren’t really feelings he can do anything about and I don’t expect him to. I just think check-ins are important and not doing them causes other problems. But I can’t seem to say something like that without triggering a large guilt response for all the trouble he’s causing me, and that’s even more draining.
It’s difficult to talk about what’s going on with me if it’s always going to result in an emotional outpouring about what it brings up for him. His stuff is important too but I can’t always be dealing with that on top of (instead of?) my own feelings.
I’ve tried to express this to him before — including bringing it up at calmer moments — but so far it hasn’t gone anywhere constructive. I suppose it’s difficult to work through being both a source of stress and a source of comfort, and that the stress part isn’t really his fault. Any scripts or advice for finding better ways to check in and support each other in ways we can both work with?
When you say the thing to your partner about how you are “starting to feel stressed out,” what is it that you want to happen right then?
You don’t like what is happening, which is that he apologizes to you and you have to have some FEELINGSCHAT. This sounds remarkably to me like you want to check in about your feelings, but are annoyed if he shares his in return. So “a mutual feelings check-in” seems to NOT be actually on the list of what you want to happen.
I get working from home, I get being introverted, I get liking a lot of alone times in the house, I even get having lived with a partner who was always home and who was very desiring of my attention during those times. It seems to me that when you say that you are feeling stressed out during these check-ins, what you want is for your partner to say “yah I hear you” and then go in another room or better yet, to offer to go fuck off somewhere to the movies or a cafe or to run errands, but you don’t want to be the bad guy and actually ask for that thing. It’s good that you don’t want to trigger a big guilt response in him – “being at home, where he lives” is not actually things he should feel guilty about. Yes, of course it’s disruptive to your routine, so you both need to work out a new one that works for you for as long as this is the new normal. After eight years together it’s tempting to think you’ve got everything down, communication-wise, and that the other person should just understand already, but your question is actually a great example for how that’s not really true and we’re always re-negotiating things.
I think that if you want to avoid the FEELINGSCHAT you should add a specific request or action onto your check-in when you are stressed out.
Half the time, the request could be “Do you mind heading to a movie or taking a walk for a little while while I focus? I am on a deadline/need to get through the end of this chapter and I’ll concentrate better if I can have 2 hours of alone time.”
The other half, the action could be “Partner, I’m going to head out for a walk for a little while/to go to the library/to hit the cafe while I study” so that he can be in the house by himself for a spell. There are lots of ways to get some breathing room here.
You could also work this out ahead of time for the week, as in X and Y days you need to study and want the house to yourself. P and Q days you will be at the library for part of the day. Z day you will spend together doing something fun while has this time off. More structure will help everyone know where the boundaries are, which will actually make the times you are both in the house together more relaxed. Script: “I don’t want to feel stressed, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re impinging on me, so could we work out a schedule for study time/together time/alone time while you’re between assignments?”
I know I’ve said that when in a high-conflict situation it’s sometimes enough to put the feeling out there and make the other person do the work of figuring out what to do about it, but this is not a high-conflict situation with an adversary, this is a negotiation with a housemate and a romantic partner where you want everyone to win and feel good and you actually know what you want to happen. Try adding a specific request or action to your check-ins. If it leads to some kind of longer discussion it can be because you’re working out logistics. You have a lot of power, dear Letter Writer, to improve this dynamic, like, instantly. Less feelings, more action!