This summer I had to confront something that deeply rocked my confidence in terms of believing – believing in myself and my ability to understand other people. I still don’t really know what to make of it. I hope that by writing this diary, I can make some sense of what happened.
Photo “You’re so naive yet so…” by que ondà/microonda
The shock for me was realizing, that a whole set of problems, that I had been facing in my relationship, could be explained by one simple pattern, the shock was seeing it described clearly and directly on web sites, and my anger was realizing that a whole bunch of recurring issues between us, could be explained in this simple label – that these actions were not simple separate issues, but connected, that is motivated, and were not some sort of innocent accident.
In simple terms, I saw in front of my face that two unrelated problems could be seen as connected. These problems were a problem of communication, and a problem of commitment. It’s worth going into these in more detail, before describing the pattern.
Throughout our relationship, clear communication was always an issue. No surprise there I guess :) But there was something, in the communication that always troubled me (I just didn’t get it), and variously ascribed to a range of everyday tendencies. She had difficulty in expressing or describing and emotion (shy maybe? Not used to it?), she would always use language to describe any decision, or emotion in contradictory terms (Gemini maybe? A little indecisive?). So she may say that she believed in x, and then two sentences later that she did not. In fact, it would be less clear, than that, because she would also never speak in the first person, about anything. She would never say what she wanted, or believed in, rather that it was a good idea. It was never possible to figure out where she actually stood on any issue, and in particular it was never ever possible to get her to clearly say what she wanted.
Common thing really, not a big problem? At least that is what I thought Yes it could be annoying, but it was also one of the reasons I fell for her in the first place. Her language, was beautiful, very imaginative and poetic. It was part of the way she thought and expressed herself, and I actively like this.
The problem came because we were also working together, she was an architect, and we had a business together. I was the programmer, and co-conspirator in the implementation of the project, and so the issue of communication became very practical. Which direction did she want to go in? Which out of projects a,b, or c did she prefer? What role did she want? You can get so far with third party descriptions, you can work around poetic and contradictory descriptions – but in the end you need to make choices, and you need to present these in a convincing way to other people. Still, I’d had a lot of experience working with artists, and I did not see this issue as complex, or involved as it turned out to be.
It hurt more on an emotional level, because she would not express, what she wanted, or if she enjoyed anything? She would respond very aggressively to complements, and was never able to express any commitment, or discuss any future plans, even if this was to discuss a holiday, or what we would / could do in a few months time. Everything was last minute. So she found it difficult to decide, and commit – scary things, nothing unusual there. Yes it became more of a problem, when it came to discussing whether to have children (she did not want them), or living together, or marriage. I didn’t really doubt that she loved me (well maybe on occasion :), and I still don;t even after all that happened later. But it is only now that I realize the size of the issue. In seven years I was never able to hear her say “I want….”, and in the last few years, we tried all sorts of things to get to that point.
The issue here was not just begin able to say I want to stay with you, or I want to live together. That is part of the picture. Yes, I had asked her to “marry” me, or discuss what we were aiming at in the future for our relationship, and was not able to have a discussion, let alone any decision on this. Rather I am talking about, a wide range of simple day to day activities.
There was no ability to plan anything at all (this would have been a commitment), and any commitment eventually reached, for instance to do some work, or meet somewhere, she always broke (by turning up late or failing to produce work). Again I thought of this as a simple issue, with being late, or getting up in the morning, or catching trains or planes – it was an issue to do with discipline, or structure – just some bad habits, nothing special. Many of the people I care for, are like that, we can all be a bit like that. For work again this was more of a problem, and I ended up putting more and more work in myself to compensate – but it is only now I realize the extent to the problem.
In seven years, she never ever produced a piece of independent work. Not a single document, drawing or painting. To put this in context the project we were working on, the XXXX as she called it, was her passion. It was her dream. It was what we spoke about when we met, there is no doubting how much this project meant to her, and I know now that she is heart broken that it has failed, that it is not happening. But despite, years of discussion and trying to address this issue, she only ever produced two or three documents as emails or wiki pages, and even when forced to sit down and work together (as we did on two occasions), she was only able to produce a couple of images by sitting down together.
This is what distressed me most, and I tried everything I could think of for four years to try and help. Again while it caused real problems for the project, and destroyed month and month of my work every year, I felt far more for her – she was a very creative and gifted person, and this was destroying her – not just our work. Again all for this was easy to avoid, subtle, but slowly grew more and more important. It was baffling. Maybe, she just had not chosen what she wanted? Easily distracted? Or most serious of all – maybe this was some form of “creative block”?
In front of my face
Then this summer, while searching for a definition for something I wanted to put in an email – I saw staring at me a list of “symptoms” – each and every one of them suddenly all laid out and explained, and it was the explanation rather than the label which came as a shock. All these things, and there is a long list that i am not covering in this post), were not unconnected.
In short what I was looking at was a page on WikiPedia, and it said that the problems in communicating were not unrelated to what I had come to see as a “creative block”. It also said that both these problems were my fault.
The confusing language that cause a difficult in our communication was termed Ambiguity that is “speaking cryptically”, and was there for a reason – it was “a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others or of disguising one’s own insecurities.” Wow – that one came out of the blue. And suddenly, it was clear. It was clear why there was a creative block in producing documents for our work. It was to do with me! It was being done in some sense deliberately to hurt and control me? The initial problems in being constantly late, not getting up in the morning and missing every flight and train possible, had disappeared when I stopped making a fuss about them, and had then popped up as a refusal to produce work. She was not having a problem with her creative projects, I was not helping her to overcome some “block”, the more things I suggested, or the more work I did to try and compensate the worse I was making it – she was not producing work because of me – it was her way of hurting me!
All of a sudden everything made sense. Every single so called symptom listed here explained something, some clear and repetitive pattern we had had. The talk of the relationship she had with her parents (both well known Architects), which I had not thought much of, started to make sense (I still distrust these sort of explanations). I should have listened more carefully. The issues related to empathy, the way she left – all started to make complete sense.
Please Listen To Me… by Steve Rhodes
A word of warning – when you confront a passive-aggressive person with their behaviour too strongly expect them to deny, leave the relationship, and run away. In my case a seemingly innocent conversation about her relationship with her parents, turned into an unexceptional argument, which somehow led her to start sleeping with someone else, without telling me for over 5 months. It also makes it impossible for her to say sorry – or should that “be” sorry.
Reading around the web I began to recoil in horror:
The passive aggressive will say one thing, do another, and then deny ever saying the first thing. They don’t communicate their needs and wishes in a clear manner, expecting their spouse to read their mind and meet their needs. After all, if their spouse truly loved them he/she would just naturally know what they needed or wanted. The passive aggressive withholds information about how he/she feels, their ego is fragile and can’t take the slightest criticism so why let you know what they are thinking or feeling? God forbid they disclose that information and you criticize them.
or more kindly:
This hostile cooperation is at the core of passive-aggression, she and other researchers say, and in later in life it is habitually directed at any authority figure, whether a boss, a teacher or a spouse making demands. These passive-aggressive people, Dr. Benjamin said, “are full of unacknowledged contradiction, of angry kindness, compliant defiance, covert assertiveness.”
Beware, if you confront the passive aggressive he/she will most likely sulk, give you the silent treatment or completely walk away leaving you standing there to deal with the problem alone.
It was covert abuse – and for four years, everything I did, everything I tried to help with – just played directly into the hands of this pattern and made it worse.