/u/tryingmybest101 on /r/polyamory writes…
“Last night I came home to a homemade dinner from my wife, we’ve both been really busy and she usually gets in much later than I do so it meant a lot to me. I went upstairs to change and noticed that there was a condom wrapper in the garbage. We’re polyamorous so no problem if she has a guest over but usually we talk about it. During dinner I asked if she’d been with someone and she immediately clammed up and said she used it with herself (on a toy). I asked why she was getting defensive as we’re both very open to talking about sex and reminded her that she could tell me if she was with someone else, the important thing was to be honest with each other. She got super pissed and went off about how she is working on some stuff that her psych recommended for her and she shouldn’t have to share that with me if she doesn’t want to. I saw how angry she was and she said it was a sensitive subject so I left it there.
Things were still awkward but we decided to go upstairs and snuggle in bed. I found out that under her bathrobe she’s put on lingerie but she was still being super cold and upset. We sat there in silence for a while and then I asked if there were any other secrets or sensitive areas that she preferred I don’t involve myself in, I even told her that she didn’t have to tell me but that her reaction tonight took me by surprise and I didn’t want to step on any future landmines. She immediately pulled away and went off about me not listening, and not letting things go, that I always have to push and push. We have two very different ways to deal with conflict: I want to talk about everything and spell everything out as much as possible to try and understand each other, she gets overwhelmed and prefers time to herself to process, apologize and then act like nothing happened. We usually navigate a middle path but last night was bad, she left the house for two hours “for air”. We made up, fought again and then made up again. We had sex and went to bed super late. We agreed that we were both going to be more patient and left it there.
But this morning I woke up and can’t let it go. I feel guilty for not being able to shut up and just recognize that it wasn’t something she wanted to talk about and I’m honestly resentful that she turned it into this huge fight when it seems like something that could have been talked about with love and patience. I’m doubting myself and feel judged for being “too intense” and overthinking things and that before she appreciated I was such a communicator and now she seems annoyed by it. I’m also still a little resentful that she acted so defensively about masturbation. It’s fine if there are areas of her life she doesn’t want to share with me but I don’t understand why she got defensive about it from the start instead of laughing calling me a snoop and that she was working stuff out like she has in the past. My confidence is shook in myself, I’ve struggles with depression and anxiety, have been off meds for about a month but feel myself slipping hard. How do I get over this and just move on? How do I let go of the feeling that I messed up a special night and that we’re somehow more distant than before?”
Dear Trying My Best 101,
I can see that you really are trying your best, in your way. I can also see that your wife is trying her best, in her way. But I don’t think that either of you are trying your best in each other’s ways. This fight really wasn’t about condoms, but more about your current disconnect in approach for conflict resolution. There seems to be a major disconnect in your communication styles and trust for each other because so much of your respective goodwill and trust in each other gets lost in translation.
An episode of Multiamory talked a bit about chewer vs. spewer dynamic. And Dedeker goes into more detail about this in her book A Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory. In essence, Chewers like to sit on their own feelings, nurse those feelings, and process their own feelings at their own pace by themselves. Spewers on the other hand prefer to actively process and verbalize what they are thinking about with other people. They aim to gain validation, flesh out & process their feelings in real-time, and develop a better sense of self through vocalization. It sounds like you are much more of a spewer, ready to talk about your own feelings and immediately resolve those issues you recognize in real time. And it sounds like your wife is much more of a chewer, willing to sit back to process things in her own and regroup after she has worked through her side of the issue. This is why your wife might feel like you are too intense because she might feel like you need to approach and resolve issues out loud right away. And why you might feel like your wife is unnecessarily distant because you mistake her mental processing as a way to distance herself away from you.
Here is what I think you, as a spewer, can do better to communicate better with her. Realize and recognize that your wife sometimes needs space to process things as they unfold. She has communicated that she felt pushed because you keep on engaging her to resolve her processing long before she feels comfortable. So respect that boundary by mindfully providing that space for her soul to reside in discomfort for a while. Respect the lines she has drawn in the sand no matter how silly you think it is. You might be mistaking her discomfort at your mindful intent as defensiveness. I know that impulse to fix things will be intense. But she is clearly working through some of her own stuff. And the best you can do is to be patient for her. Most importantly, have some faith in her process as well. She is trying her best. Really.
Here is what I think your wife, as a chewer, can do better to communicate better with you. Instead of leaving the door wide open to regroup, provide each other with a better structure on when she might be ready to discuss what she has been processing. In some of my chewer-spewer dynamics, we set a timeline and say we can regroup in a week to talk about a serious topic. Or we might save those serious topics for our monthly review/reconnect. Another thing she can do better is to not resent you for accidentally stepping on some of her unidentified boundaries. You do not have the skills necessary to sidestep invisible mines only she can see, and she can definitely lend you some credit for doing your best to navigate what you can’t see. I think the same line of advice can be applied to here as well: she needs to have some faith in your process as well. You clearly are trying your best. Really.
You also asked how you can let go of this bad feeling and move forward. I must ask you this. Those special nights are what you make of them. All you can do is make space for those special moments to happen by intentionally engaging and mindfully approaching each of those moments with each other. Even a night in with a movie and tea can be the most special and touching date night if you are both mentally present to reconnect and heal old wounds together. Both of you have made some very fixable mistakes here. So understand that you too are human and are unfortunately prone to mistakes. Choose to learn from this experience and forgive yourself by accepting awkwardness in life and love.
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!