My partner stepped on a (virtual landmine) this weekend. 

All right. How do I say this? Everybody has wounds. Lots of adults have scars from past relationships or wounds that relate to their origin stories. These wounds sit like little mines under the surface, waiting to be activated. And this weekend, my partner stepped on a massive landmine of mine, a virtual landmine.

My wound is rooted in not feeling loved and that got salt sprinkled and rubbed into it. Without going into too much of the annoying and overly dramatic detail, I’ll just say this; it began Friday when I left my partner at a nightclub Halloween party at 2 a.m., I sent him a text to let him know I got home. (Okay. Of course, I would get back okay. Why wouldn’t I??)

But he didn’t respond to that.

Add to this Friday night before I left a friend gave me a piece of candy (that I didn’t know had THC in it). I didn’t notice any effects until I was home when I felt really unsettled, strangely paranoid, and unnervingly scared, virtual landmine.

Now add these irrational fears to not getting some acknowledgment from my partner. At 7 am he texted to tell me he was going to sleep in the city. I was happy for him to have friends to stay with. After all, I wouldn’t want him to drive home tired after dancing all night (San Francisco parties go much longer than bar time).

And it snowballed from there.

I was still out of sorts when I texted in the morning. My partner read my response as negative so he avoided reaching out to me more. (Fair enough, I sometimes forget my communication skills. They went out the window in this instance.) He also made some assumptions about my weekend plans without asking, and his avoidance and lack of caring felt disrespectful. It also brought up jealousy and resentment toward the people he was hanging out with. My partner was experiencing a lot of fun N. R. E. (new relationship energy), which usually I wouldn’t be bothered by. But in this instance, I was already nursing some unfamiliar anxious, unsettled, scared feelings that I didn’t like or understand.

Yes, they were icky, icky feelings for both of us. 

I was already feeling tender about some low-level hostility going on between us and generally feeling very disconnected from him. We’d both been busy with our own activities, and neither of us made an effort to dedicate time together to reconnect. I read into his not responding to me; it felt like he didn’t care about me.

I knew I needed to reconnect, but wasn’t asking for it. I didn’t plan to even go to the Halloween party but decided to go at the last minute (a compromise for me) because I knew he wanted to go. My partner didn’t say anything about feeling disconnected, so I presumed he didn’t need it or care. (Notice, I didn’t check in to ask if he was feeling the same way I was). What really chapped my hide was that he still wasn’t home on Sunday morning, nor was he communicating when he would be home or even what he intended. He just checked out. 

A simple analogy

I have an analogy to describe how important communication is for couples (link to video) who want to stay on the same path. When any two people are in a relationship, they are the two separate rails of a train track. They go alongside by side, on the same path, presumably to the same destination. But if at any point there’s one degree of separation between those two tracks, those two tracks grow very far apart over time.

Anything could cause that one degree of separation; different interests, different desires, wanting different things. Time passes when we delay communicating those hurt feelings or dealing with that pain and anger brushed aside, or naming that resentment, causing you to “stonewall” your partner. 

Not allowing those rails to grow too far apart over time is crucial. There has to be a course correction. Maybe one person will do it, perhaps it’ll be the other, or perhaps you’ll both meet in the middle, but it has to happen and as soon as possible. Waiting a week, a month, or a year may be too long. It may be too late for the relationship to repair.

You don’t have to be married to want to repair or improve your relationship.

You just have to commit to doing better. Or at least make a conscious effort to note where the landmines are and try not to step on them repeatedly once we discover them. And get help if you cannot work through the mines on your own. There’s no need to cause unnecessary harm again to each other.

We make mistakes. We hurt each other. It’s gonna happen. Communicating is the only way through. It’s going to be painful, and it’s going to suck. But if your goal is to stay together, staying on the path to your common destination, then you have to do the work. 

Giving up and throwing in the towel is easy, but it’s not going to prevent you from ever having to deal with disappointment. Sure, there are people pleasers who won’t rock the boat and will go along with everything you say. But there are no guarantees it will stay that way. Your pleaser may wake up from sleepwalking at some point and want something different.

I’m a former sleepwalker

I buried a lot of feelings back then. I kept quiet because I wanted to be the cool girlfriend/wife. I didn’t want to make waves so I went along with what the person I was in a relationship with wanted without declaring my wishes. For example, my husband wanted to go on ski vacations in the Alps (we lived in Germany at the time) a few winters when I was pregnant and then a new mom. But it was a vacation just for him because I was either very pregnant or nursing an infant.

(And also, if I have to pack a turtleneck, it’s NOT a vacation for me).

Why did I go along with it? I was afraid that if I had wishes that were different from his that he would not love me.

Those vacations sucked – holed up in a hotel room with a babies while my husband skied full days. No fun for me. And I never said anything. But I won’t do that anymore. It might suck to have to deal with the emotions when they come up, but being able to do that respectfully and stay in connection is beautiful.

Oh, the disappointment.

One of the best pieces of training I received pointed out that every relationship has disappointment in it. You’re never going to be 100% happy 100% of the time with your partner. Now that might sound jaded to anyone who wants to hold a very romanticized idea of relationships, but it’s been 100% true in my experience of relationships. How you deal with disappointment is really crucial to identify for yourself. How much disappointment is okay or acceptable in your relationship is also an important point to note.

Hey, emotions can be messy, ugly, painful, and certainly a reason why people numb or checkout but for all that “pain and suffering.” I have felt a lot of joy and happiness by not bottling up my feelings.

So what happened between my sweetheart and me?

Well, as I mentioned, he came back from the city on Sunday night. Monday morning we talked things through on the ride to take him to the airport. There were a lot of tears on my part as I shared how I felt. I apologized for my dismissive response on Saturday morning and my enraged texts on Sunday. I described how the combination of my anxious state, not feeling connected, combined with his ignoring and avoidant behavior effectively stepped on a massive land mine that I had buried.

There was no way he would’ve known that it was there. Hell, I didn’t even know it was there. But now it’s an exposed wound, and I need to tend to that.

He apologized for not communicating and promised to be more considerate of my feelings. I stated what I thought could help me in the immediate future and gave him some things to consider if he felt a need to check out like that again. And he shared his commitment to communicating better and without assumptions going forward. Then we kissed and made up, both restated our goal of staying/working together. 

I am grateful to have a partner who could hear what I had to say, show up, and hang in there with me as I moved through a frantic, hurt state. We will hurt each other by mistake again, I’m sure. I love him deeply and hope to see us stay on this path together …and I’m awake and aware that this particular landmine exists now.

Have you ever “lost it” and had to work to find your way back? What are your tips for finding your cool when you’re escalated? 



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About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on themamasutra.com.

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