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I should practice Gottman's Aftermath Kit: Healing Previous Injuries and Hurt Feelings.

 

Here's how a conversation on Valentine's Day might have gone:

Step one is: Recall and Name the Emotions Out Loud

Don't debate the facts, let each person have their own interpretation but get the emotions out of what people actually felt.

 

Her: What emotions did you feel that day? I felt like I wasn't a priority, like my goals and dreams weren't important when you said that you didn't want to have kids so I felt like there was no future for the relationship.

 

Me:

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Me: I knew we had important differences over whether to have kids and how many. I was completely shocked and heartbroken to be broken up with on Valentine's day of all days. I felt bad that it was my not wanting to have kids that lead you to feel that we couldn't be together anymore. But I also felt like my feelings and emotions around that issue weren't being understood. Like I was just being emotional-less and rational. But I think there was a little understood emotional landscape behind my thinking as well. Feeling like I wanted to matter, to make a significant difference for having lived, feeling like just living an average/normal/typical life wasn't enough for me, esp. given the privileges and advantages I've enjoyed. Fear of divorce, of not doing a good job as a father and doing a mediocre job both as a father and in my career or as a husband. Fear that my dreams and goals weren't compatible with having a child, let alone multiple children. All of these I never felt were fully understood or appreciated. I know having children is the typical thing that people do in our society and I am the abnormal one for questioning it. But just because something is frequent in society doesn't always make it the right choice. But it doesn't mean that I have no emotions or do not value family. On the contrary, I just value them in a different way.

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Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Her: I needed you to agree to have at least one, preferably two children.

 

Me: I needed to feel heard and understood for my goals and values in life and to be told that our goals were compatible and that you would do everything possible so that together we could achieve enough startup success to transition over to philanthropy full time one day. Instead I heard from you that our goals were not compatible and that my goals/vision was not important to you.

 

Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Her: In my childhood, I was an only child and was often lonely. So it is important to me that my child/children have siblings so that they can play together and have that special relationship. Also, I'm very proud of my father, but sometimes I think he works too hard trying to achieve something bigger.

 

Me: I'm not sure why, but my biggest fear has always been mediocrity. Of not making a difference as a result of my time on Earth. Quotes like this have always profoundly moved me and motivated me, "“I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.”

― Jack London

While I know that having children is one way to have a lasting influence in life, it's always struck me as something that everyone does. I've always strove to have something bigger than just living through children. My big fear is that my (very important) obligation to children would somehow keep me from that bigger mission in life.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Her: I think I said this above.

Me: I'm not sure, I do distinctly remember as a child noticing that when my parents came home there was nothing that they were "working on" in their spare time (and this somehow disappointed me) the way that my grandfather was always working on something. I remember thinking that I wanted to live the kind of life where when I came home from work there was something I was still excited about making progress on.

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Her: I think I said this above.

Me: I'm not sure, I do distinctly remember as a child noticing that when my parents came home there was nothing that they were "working on" in their spare time (and this somehow disappointed me) the way that my grandfather was always working on something. I remember thinking that I wanted to live the kind of life where when I came home from work there was something I was still excited about making progress on. I was also shocked when I learned that my parents hadn't saved for my college education and that we had to rely on a gift from my grandmother and as a result I was being pushed to attend a school that I didn't want to go to. I was able to go to Duke thanks to financial aid and the generosity of many donors to the University who made that possible. Once I got to Duke I started look at the building names and statues for who these generous people were who made my education possible. I found that many of them had been entrepreneurs and after making their money had donated it so that students like me and countless others could attend Duke. I found their lives inspiring and wanted to model my own life after theirs.

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Me: I take responsibility for not responding well and understanding your feelings and triggers around this issue. I also take responsibility for not explaining my own feelings and history around this topic more clearly. I should have done a better job and I should have been more ambitious to believe that I could manage it all to take care of aging parents, have multiple children and save for their educations, have a strong relationship with you and manage my career to achieve my dreams of startup success and philanthropy. I shouldn't sell myself short.

 

Her: I take responsibility as well for the poor timing of the conversation and my decision to end it on that particular day. That was a heartless thing to do. I also take responsibility for not understanding your feelings and history around this topic.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

 

Me: I understand now how important a feeling of making progress in the relationship is and how important your dream/goal/vision of having two children is and that I should have acknowledged that more fully and deeply. It makes sense. Next time I would phrase my responses more in terms of we and us working it out. I would also more clearly communicate my feelings and where they are coming from to you.

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Me: Next time I would suggest that we dedicate some time to seeing a therapist to work things out and to figure out the source of my issues around having kids. I would respect your deep interest in children more and suggest that we start reading together and planning ways to best raise them and to manage it alongside two demanding careers. I would also help us to read more and better figure out how to make marriage work and what leads to successful marriages to reduce my fears of having a child live through divorce.

 

Her: I understand better now about your fears based on your own life experience of having a child live through parents arguments and potential divorce. I would work to better understand and address those fears and to let you know that I will do everything possible to make sure that you can achieve your dreams also. I would never give you the feeling that your dreams are incompatible with mine.

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Even from the beginning I had a sense that she was a bit disconnected emotionally and did not entirely empathize w/ my emotions. Also, even though she was clearly driven career-wise and accomplished w/ a phd and had taken some risks to change the world for the better in the ways she was passionate about, she had not done anything that blew me away. She was just working for a very typical management consulting firm. Yet, I was excited about her drive and ambition and I guess that is what led me to overlook initially the negative signs that began to mount. The first major one was setting a timer and complaining that when I cooked dinner it was taking too long from start to finish. The second was the way she and her best friend interacted. It reminded me of the saying by Eleanor Roosevelt that "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." It was always gossip and poking fun at other people and that concerned me a lot. Then there was the kids thing again. Finally, nearly the last straw was when I said something sweet to her and her response was just "ditto". That really bothered me. My friend began to warn me about those people where everything is always just fine with them. That they seem to be covering up their emotions. Though I liked that she was optimistic and didn't complain. It did annoy me though when I was down about work and she started trying to solve the problem by re-optimizing my time management and how I spent my day. I appreciated the help, but I did need some sympathy and understanding. All of this made me realize the things that I missed now about her and that an ambitious, driven girl had downsides to being with her as well. It began to dawn on me that I did want more of a balance. She seemed too into status signals and the Lexus she drove was the biggest sign of that to me. Finally we got into a big argument. She seemed to be picking a fight. Perhaps she could sense that I was not that into it all anymore. I merely suggested in response to her bragging about joining the board of a non-profit that perhaps non-profits should pay their board members in order to attract highly talented people. I thought it was an interesting, though counter-intuitive idea. For some reason she got really offended over it. Later I learned because it was yet another sign that I wasn't expressing that I valued her and needed her. Anyway, one afternoon she picked me up from the airport, told me it wasn't working and dropped me off at home with no explanation why and refused to discuss it. My friends told me this was such a mean, cold hearted way to break up with someone. Later I learned that many of them thought that she was "fake" though they hadn't said it to my face until after the breakup. I do think she was sweet, but agree that she was disconnected from her emotions and fake in that way.

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Perhaps she thinks that I was crazy about this girl and only when she broke up with me did I start to take her seriously again. The reality is quite different. It was my dissatisfaction with the lack of emotional connection that made me miss the empathy that she could provide and start thinking that I should break up. But of course I'm hesitant to break up because I tend to want to make things work.

 

I contacted her a while after the breakup, even though my close friends told me to never talk to her again because of the cold-hearted way that she ended it. Still I felt like I had probably made mistakes and I wanted to learn from them. We met in a coffee shop and I asked her what happened. She said that I wasn't expressive enough. I didn't buy her gifts or tell her that I cared for her, loved her or needed her enough. She said that some guys are flower guys who give flowers and are very expressive and I happen to be a more reserved guy and there is no changing that so she ended it. While I think there is truth to what she says, I also feel like with her and her friends it's just a competition to tell the latest and greatest story of look what my guy bought me or look what he did for me recently. She even mentioned her friend's guy and how he's the opposite of me. I hate that kind of thing. Love is not a status competition among friends. It's something that is deeply personal between two people to share in their own ways. If girls just want a guy to show off to their friends what fancy gift he has bought or whatever recently then I want no part of that kind of relationship.

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I have two major lessons to learn from this I think. One is to take more seriously early signs that the match may not be a good one and that a good match for me is probably more of a mix of empathetic but also driven/ambitious/passionate about changing the world for the better in some way.

 

The second is that I need to be more expressive. Maybe through gifts, but also certainly through words and actions. I'm very busy but I need to set reminders or other things even if they aren't romantic because they will come accross that way when she doesn't realize that I've set a reminder or something to do something more expressive.

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I talked to this other girl at the conference tonight who looks a lot like her and even her mannerisms are similar and way of speaking. She's also into entrepreneurship and finance. I talked to her for a long time because of the good memories she brought back from her look and way of speaking. It was so bittersweet. Of course she lives in NYC so not worth it to pursue anyway. But she reminded me of her.

 

I hope she's having a fun time in Cancun.

 

I need to pick a next incident to heal from/have a conversation around. Maybe the NYE dinner is a good one to process next.

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Back in Beijing again, but staying at a much more comfortable place this time. Still, it reminds me of that horrible, terrible day a year and three months ago when I got that gut-wrenching email from her saying it was over. I hadn't cheated but I felt like I was being treated that way. I can understand her perspective but just wish she hadn't jumped to conclusions before talking with me. I wonder when or if she will talk to me again. I still miss her.

 

Some girls are seemingly starting to chase me now. But I still need to figure out what I'm looking for exactly and how to make marriage work. I'm still not sure I completely understand it all.

 

Another event to process and practice the conversation skills may help. NYE dinner in Santa Barbara:

 

Step one is: Recall and Name the Emotions Out Loud

Don't debate the facts, let each person have their own interpretation but get the emotions out of what people actually felt.

 

Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Step one is: Recall and Name the Emotions Out Loud

Don't debate the facts, let each person have their own interpretation but get the emotions out of what people actually felt.

 

Her: I felt like you were not happy and excited to be with me and to see me, like it was a job. I also felt like you did not value our time together since you planned to be back at work already on the 2nd when I had sent you a vacation plan, which you had asked me to put together that had us spending more time together until the 3rd or 4th. So I felt under-valued, under-appreciated and insecure, like i didn't know where I stood with you.

 

Me: I felt tired from so much driving in a car that I was not used to driving and tired in general from my trip back from Copenhagen. I also felt taken by surprise once again. I was annoyed that I wasn't getting more help with navigating at least since I had to do the driving. So I was irritated to be asked to turn around yet again. So i felt justified in giving a huff to show I was hungry and irritated. But then suddenly when you stopped talking to me I was surprised, scared and felt like you were over-reacting to my huff about being asked to turn around. I felt like I had bitten my tongue and didn't say anything to avoid an argument and yet here I had something worse than an argument where you just went completely silent and wouldn't talk to me at all.

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I did a bad job on this first step. I did too much blaming and did not limit it to just getting the emotions out that were felt.

 

For me it was irritation, fear, confusion, surprise and frustration.

 

For her it was most likely insecurity, feeling unvalued, and feeling disappointed.

 

Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

Link to comment

Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Me: I needed to you talk to me. To at least tell me that you were ok but needed some time before you were ready to talk about it. I needed to understand whether going silent was a result of my exhale at being asked to turn around again or was about something bigger and if so, what. I needed communication and to be put at ease rather than sitting tense and silent through an expensive dinner on NYE, creating what I knew would be an incident we would look back on with sadness for a long time. I needed to know whether I should keep trying to talk to you or just give you some time to calm down again first.

 

Her: I needed to be reassured, to feel that you loved me and cared about me. I needed you to fight for me even though it was difficult and I wasn't responding.

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One question I wonder about a lot these days is back again to what I should be looking for in a life partner. People will say "love" but there are many who I can feel attracted to and infatuated within the beginning. How important are education level, career, similar views on kids and hobbies, etc.? How important is how well the other person treats me? Sweet things and gifts? I find that in general there are tradeoffs among these. Of course I want someone who has it all, but that seems hard if not impossible to find. It seems there is a tradeoff between someone who has a good career and high level of education, but who winds up very busy and the sweet things, romance, etc. is less. Versus someone who is less engaged in their career/education, maybe is less attractive and therefore less sought after, but who has time and energy and inclination/personality to treat me very sweetly, but whose career and work life is less interesting. It's not clear exactly to me what balance in these factors I'm looking for.

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Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Me: I think this must relate again to my parents and how in childhood they would get emotional and then fly off the handle. Mom and Dad's arguing eventually led to their divorce in my eyes. Dad would drink too much and then yell at me sometimes over nothing. Mom also would get into moods and then scream at me or use a wooden spoon on me. Whenever breakups happened in the past for me it was when the girl got emotional and then broke up with me. So I'm already over-sensitive to extreme emotion and then it's even worse with the uncertainty of not knowing what it is about or when the silence is going to stop and the yelling will begin.

 

Her: It's related to her parents also, to insecurity and to rejection by Americans/caucasians when she was in school and initially moved here.

 

These deep triggers seem to repeat over and over for us.

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Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

I think I already did this above. But the one other thing that I should say is that these fears were confirmed later that night when we got home. I was trying to calm down/stop flooding and also give her some space to calm down as well. Instead, she took it as a sign that I didn't want to resolve the conflict and so she got upset and threatened to leave/break up. That just confirmed for me that strong emotion leads to breaking up.

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

I played a role in this incident happening. I take responsibility for not trying harder to reassure her and to get her to a point where she felt comfortable sharing her emotions with me. I also should not have scheduled the interview with that famous investor/entrepreneur without running it by her first. I was afraid I would lose the opportunity to interview him on camera, but she should have been the priority. I also should have reserved a different car so that she could help with the driving. I should have focused less on the massage, flowers, nice dinners, as a way to show my emotions etc. and more on the things that really mattered to her. I take responsibility for not reading her entire email more carefully and for assuming we would discuss the plan later. I also take responsibility for putting the planning burden on her for the trip.

 

Her: She would probably say that she takes responsibility for not communicating with me better and for not trying to communicate her feelings in a way that I could hear them and respond without flooding that evening when she finally did hear them.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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