Mending Fences

You know what’s hard in a tiny house? Fighting. That’s what’s hard. No doors to slam, no dramatic throwing of things, and nowhere to escape. Man, my clenched jaw and pursed lips are getting a run for their money. Averted eyes helps, but the source of my anger is always in my face. Always. I don’t even bother with a dismissive “leave me alone!” Nope. The only option we have is to sit in clenched silence and offer the occasional audible harumph, which is always meant to indicate to the other that things are definitely not okay.

Defiance aside, I guess there is another option: to work through it. Ugh. I find that entirely annoying. When I’m pissed – whether for real reasons or just sheer emotional exhaustion, I want to let ’er rip. It’s how I roll; throw a hissy, and then once all the anger has been expressed, I begin the slow recovery back into a humane and loving world. Instead, in this new tiny world of ours, here I sit, in front of Jim and everyone, trudging through the chaos of my mind in search of ways to move us up and over this hurdle of frustration. Needless to say, I want him to make the first, thoughtful move to rectify the situation, but it’s clear I’ve met my I’m-not-giving-in match.

Making the first move is hard, particularly when it’s the kind of move that is about solution and not just hammering home (again and again) points of annoyance. After all, to be fully equipped to take that initial step, you need to take a walk onto their side of the battlefield to try to understand just what it is they’re fighting for. I’ve always prided myself on being empathetic, but working through a fight requires a challengingly high level of self-awareness and patience that usually isn’t readily available. Oh, and you have to tame that ever-present, WHAT-ABOUT-ME beast.

The passage of time always helps, often clouding one’s memory about a fight’s origin. Nevertheless, as my family would attest, I choose not to let it go. I am certain that even if able to resume the semblance of comfortable interaction, the underlying source of the issue remains, even if swept aside or buried. Better not to let it go because there is at least a nugget of unresolved issue that deserves attention.

In my mind, conflict with someone you care for happens for two key reasons. (I’m not talking about a level of disagreement that prevents us from liking someone in the first place; I mean the kind of charged exchange that happens between two people who are emotionally connected) They are:

  1. Unmet expectations
  2. Unmet needs

The first has more to do with strategy than anything else. We all process in different ways and at different paces, so misaligned planning is a ticking fight bomb. As we set out on any given task, our route of accomplishment will look different from anyone else’s from the outset. This is true for something as seemingly benign as using a particular pot for boiling pasta or packing suitcases in the trunk. And it is certainly true for the more complex of to-dos, say, like how to build a fence to keep the cows from eating your house. If you’re like me, when my well-thought-out and reasonable plan gets thwarted by someone’s else’s ideas, it throws me into an irritability tailspin. What? You want to build the fence yourself? Even though you’ve never built one? Oh, suuuure. We can wait while you figure it all out…IF we don’t mind a pile of sawdust for a home. Sheesh.

Okay, so I didn’t say that, but really? By my math, the $900 bucks it would cost to have a guy show up on a scheduled day with the right supplies and the right know-how is well worth every shekel. No offense, Jim. But tick-tock.

This is where the other contributor of the fight comes in: different needs. My need is that the cows get wrangled ASAP to save our home. I mean, isn’t that obvious? Isn’t that why we agreed to head to the hardware store? To price out the supplies to figure out just what it would take to get the job done?

Apparently, not so much. It appears I simply had assumed we were on the same page.

After the dust of our storm settled (thanks only to time), we got to the root of the onflict. My planning was completely void of any focus on his needs (or his on mine). In fact, they didn’t even enter into each other’s planning equation. Case in point, Jim needed to stay focused on:

  1. Not wanting to sit back and watch people do things that he believes he should – and wants to – know how to do. For him, self-sufficiency is the key to life’s satisfaction, and that definitely is not achieved when others are doing the work. (Me? I relish the fact that there are lots of things that other people can do, like to do, and make a living doing. I don’t need to know how to do everything, thankyouverymuch.)
  2. Protecting the almighty buck. If there are 900 dollars to be saved by doing work you can handle yourself, then you do whatever it takes to make that happen. (Me? I think those 900 dollars are dollars well spent to preserve my time for focusing on other things.)
  3. Taking the time to weigh all the factors, consider all the options, and make a decision only when all thoughts have been put on the table is exhausting. Allowing for ample strategizing ensures that all angles have been calculated and that the best approach is decided upon. (Me? Go with your gut, and git ‘er dun – a.k.a shoot, ready, aim.)

So, it turns out that I wasn’t conscious of – much less meeting – Jim’s needs as demonstrated by my not offering feeling any empathy for his need to feel financially sensitive, purposeful, and patient. Huh. Getting the project done quickly wasn’t even in his sphere of consciousness. I suppose a fight is inevitable when the playing field is so completely not level, much less when one of you is on a basketball court and the other is on a racetrack. I guess that is the point: the only sure-fire way to prevent conflict from choking us is to do whatever it takes to ensure we are on the same field from the start.

These days our literal field is 160 square feet, even if our figurative fields know no bounds. Do I think that going tiny will help or hurt as we figure it out how to see eye-to-eye? Well, if we want to avoid its being eye-roll to eye-roll, we’re simply going to have to think and act more thoughtfully. Sure, the world is our big, beautiful oyster, but in this house there are limits on physical and emotional space. Quite simply, we must do a better job of keeping focus on and communicating about our own and each other’s expectations and needs if we there is any chance at all of avoiding the destructive and frustrating impact of fights. And I don’t want to fight. It’s just too freaking exhausting.

Frankly, Malu and the cows are wondering what all the fuss is about. Fence or no fence…they’re happy with things just the way they are.


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