We spent a long holiday weekend, primarily inside, due to the May Seattle gloom. We had a lot of time to talk, reflect, and be with our internal voices. We had many conversations about being in “different places” and how we navigate that as a couple. The different places we’re referring to are the feelings, moods, desires, and expectations we have for our relationship, our lifestyles, our life together and ourselves. When our “places” are the same, it’s easy to flow naturally, feel connected, and believe we’re moving in the same direction. When our “places” are different, it’s easy to get into conflicts, feel disconnected, and engage in disagreements leading one or both to believe we’re off track or not in alignment. When we’re dealing with hurt feelings, how we navigate staying close and aligned, along with believing we’re still on the same path is harder and, of course, this means moving through the obstacles in front of us without getting knocked out (of the relationship).
Sometimes I am justifiably hurt by another’s comments. Sometimes I am overly sensitive, taking personally what others mean casually or what is expressed from their own frustrations and disappointments. When previous girlfriends or partners have said unkind, hurtful things, my reaction was to either pretend the words didn’t cut deeply, building explosive resentment in the process, or to distance myself with cold, emotional punishment. I’ve learned that neither are effective responses in the face of hurt and unkindness. Though not always successful, when someone is unkind to me I practice remaining calm while also setting a boundary, knowing that they too have their story and their personal experience in the situation. When Kelli hurts my feelings, I endeavor to be open to her attempts at sweet connection while also acknowledging my feelings and protecting my heart.
My natural tendency after experiencing hurt feelings is to talk about how I feel and delve into my feelings in the moment. Only when I am deeply hurt, or the pattern of being hurt is continuous, am I inclined to walk away for longer periods of time before talking about the hurt. I am able in moments of extreme anger or heightened reaction to step back but I like to return fairly quickly to talk about my experience. As I have come to find out, over time in relationships with others, not everybody does it that way. In fact, most people don’t. Most people need and want more time before talking about their hurt, analyzing the reasons for their hurt, and looking for solutions.
It took years, as a young adult, for me to learn to sit back more and reflect on my feelings and allow others to do the same. Flash forward to mid-life. The good news is that after learning to reflect and understand my feelings on deeper levels, I chose an appropriate profession for myself, a therapist, and I’m good at helping others process, assess, analyze, and understand the origins of their feelings. The bad news is that I still process feelings sooner and more out loud than my partners, past and present.
Dorothy and Kelli speak
One morning a few days before Memorial Day weekend, Kelli said something that really hurt my (Dorothy) feelings. A lot. It was the kind of comment that makes you stop and say to yourself “What?! Did she really say that?” It’s not like we don’t both say unkind, thoughtless, insensitive things to each other occasionally. We’re human, after all. This comment was different though; I sensed more meaning and energy behind it so it gave me pause. That evening I told her she’d hurt my feelings, that I wanted to talk about it at some point, but that I was feeling too thin and depleted to talk about it right away. I told her I needed to sit with how I felt for a while, to get to a place where I wasn’t pissy, to a place where I could be kind in the conversation. I knew pulling inward in the pursuit of self-care might put a damper on a three -day weekend we were both looking forward to and desperately needed. At the same time I knew I couldn’t ‘fake it’ and pretend I wasn’t reeling from hurt and dismay.
Compared to Dorothy’s experience, my (Kelli) feelings were only slightly hurt by what had happened. Instead of light anticipation, we entered our holiday weekend with hurt feelings that I moved through fairly quickly. My focus was on spending a long weekend together and hopefully the beginning of summer in Seattle. Living most of my childhood and adult life in warm, sunny places and being able to be outside most of the year, I await summer in Seattle with restlessness and unease. My expectations were high for a fun, outdoor, active weekend. And as for my hurt feelings, I thought that my ideal weekend – biking, hiking, and time by the water with friends followed by grilling, wine tasting, and lots of couple intimacy – would provide ample healing and increase the ‘good feelings.’ Magical thinking suspended. As I came to find out, we were in different places with our hurt feelings and ideas about how to heal them and enjoy the weekend. Our plans were changing due to our different places, and the uncooperative Seattle weather was like salt in the wound.
For me (Dorothy), it was an interesting balancing act, standing in the midst of hurt and sweetness simultaneously. Kelli told me she felt bad and didn’t mean what she’d said as seriously as I’d taken it. I appreciated her reaching out, taking responsibility for her comment, and wanting to continue our connection by planning enjoyable events with friends and each other. At moments during the weekend I wanted to lash out at her for being so insensitive. Other times I was incredulous at how willing and able Kelli was to reach out when I clearly wanted nothing more than to pull in and indulge my emotional wounds. What helped me through the weekend was remembering that Kelli has her own disappointments and frustrations that sometimes come out sideways. While that doesn’t excuse what she said, it does give it context. It also helped to realize that I was emotionally thin due to an excruciatingly demanding job, grief around my experience as a mother (including the experience I’ve given my kids), healing from foot surgery and ailing, aging parents.
Our Relationship speaks
Kelli and Dorothy are continuously learning how to give each other space to sort through feelings while also maintaining a connection. They work on finding the sweet spot between avoidance and distancing. Kelli and Dorothy have known each other for 16 years, first as friends and now as partners. While their friendship provided the opportunity to know much about each other, their intimate relationship pushes them deeper, exposes more vulnerabilities, brings up unresolved relational and familial issues and requires navigating the daily details of life mindfully, with all its rewards and challenges.
Dorothy took space and time over the holiday weekend to reflect on why Kelli’s comment bothered her so much and also rested often to replenish her emotional and physical energy. Kelli delved into writing to focus her feelings and then caught a sun break and biked down to a local coffee shop for an outdoor venture. They endured a couple of hard conversations over the weekend in which they sorted through feelings, frustrations, and desires that lead to a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other. They got together with friends one afternoon, had a great connection, and remembered how grateful they were to have each other.
In the end, Dorothy and Kelli leaned in, trusted each other with their feelings, good and bad, found common ground and made compromises in how they would spend their weekend. In the process, they also took time to take care for themselves individually knowing that self-care was both fulfilling and healing.
The weekend ended well, different than expected but better than it might have otherwise had they not remained connected and present with each other.
Kelli Williamson holds a Master of Arts degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from The School of Leadership and Education at the University of San Diego. Kelli has extensive experience working with couples, children and families. She has worked in private practice and held leadership positions in non-profit organizations directing counseling services, supervising staff and interns, and providing training in child and family therapy. In addition, she consults with non-profit agencies providing organizational development and leadership training.
Dorothy (Bosteder) Emerson graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in Economics. She is a Senior Product Manager in the banking industry and has served on the board of directors for non-profit agencies serving women and children. Dorothy has expertise in building relationships by facilitating communication and collaboration while navigating complex systems. Dorothy is also the mother of two teenagers and she offers clarity and focus on listening to and following one’s heart as a parent.
Dorothy and Kelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.