Last night my wife wasn't ready to come up to bed when I went to bed so I kissed her goodnight and said "Please don't stay up all night" and she said "I won't." She did not come up to bed until the exact time I was going to get up from bed (the alarm had gone off about 15 minutes earlier). She got into bed. I cuddled up to her and have her a kiss and asked "Did you get your work done?" She said she had. I asked "Did you get any sleep?" She replied that she had gotten some. She said, "I should have moved from the love seat to the couch, though." I asked "How come you didn't come up to bed?" She said "I was too lazy."
I said "OK. I have to get up" and she said "Aw, just one more kiss?" And my response was something like "No, I have to get up." I also said, "I don't understand how on one hand you can say you can't go to sleep unless I am in bed with you and on the other tell me you didn't come to bed because you were too lazy." I left the room feeling a little angry and went downstairs to get coffee and make my lunch. And I realized I had been striking back at her in getting up without kissing her again and in what I said.
When I came back upstairs I said to her, from the bathroom (she was still in bed) "Are you awake?" She said "Yes." I said "I need to tell you that when you said you didn't come up to bed because you were too lazy I felt like I didn't matter to you." She made no reply, and I didn't say anything else, because I often end up just repeating myself without giving her enough time to absorb what I had to say and formulate a response. Imagine my surprise when she came into the bathroom after about two or three minutes, said nothing, and got into the shower. So I said "When you don't answer me after I say something like that I feel like you don't care how I feel." She seemed perplexed and said "I didn't answer you?" I said "I didn't hear any answer." She said "I answered you." I said "What is your answer?" She said "I said something like 'I'm sorry' or something like that." Which made me feel like she was saying to me "You are WRONG - I DID answer you." It did not feel like she was actually answering me in response to my original statement. I couldn't spend time talking more because I was already running late for a doctor's appointment. So I opened the shower door to give her a kiss before I left and said "I am still feeling like I have not gotten an answer from you." (I should probably point out that her not coming to bed until it is time for me to get up has been a source of contention for a long time now. I have told her over and over that I miss her when I wake up. She has told me over and over that she is sorry.)
So anyway, I sent her an email saying just that - that it felt more like she was trying to prove to me that she had, in fact responded, than actually respond to my statement. And she responded to my email in a way that made me feel like she heard SOME of what I had said. To which I replied that it felt like she had heard some of what I had said, and I thanked her for that. And I reiterated the part that I felt she had still not heard. We exchanged several emails where she was trying very hard to hear me, be empathetic, etc. and getting closer each time to hearing what I was trying to communicate. And our exchange ended with my sending her one last email thanking her for bearing with me and listening to me repeat myself until I felt heard, and telling her I admire her tenacity, in that when she puts her mind to something - in this case, hearing what I have to say - I KNOW she will succeed. That my knowing that accurately hearing what I have to say, is something she has decided to put her mind to, makes me feel loved, because she is doing something that it is important to me, and it also gives me hope, because I know how successful she is when she does put her mind to something.
I know, this is a long post to give an example of something working. But I am feeling like some of the very hard work BOTH my wife and I are doing is beginning to pay off. And I will try to remember this moment the next time we get into one of our arguments, which I know we will, because I do know that this is a process. I am also thinking that I might ask my wife if our email exchange felt as "successful" to her as it did to me. And finally, I wonder if it might be beneficial for us to spend more time having these kinds of exchanges via email, where we both seem to do a better job saying what we need to say in a loving way, hearing the other without getting defensive, etc. And then maybe when we are together we might spend some time talking about the email exchange, what we liked about what the other said and how it was said, etc.
Baby steps. :-)