Let's talk about everyday communication disconnects between couples

She hands me the camera. “Focus on me first by holding the button halfway down, then pan up til your finger’s in the middle.”

This puts me immediately into a panic. The first part I understand, but “pan up til your finger’s in the middle” is completely mysterious to me. Til my finger’s in the middle of what? I have no idea. Should I ask? No, she’s clearly in a hurry. She hates clarifying questions–because she hates having to repeat herself–and she especially hates being delayed when in a hurry.

I focus the shot on her, then snap a few shots til it dawns on me–oh fuck, she wants her plus the entire tree in the background. Hence the pan up. But–til my finger’s in the middle of what?

Maybe with some time to think I might have thought of “in the middle of the tree” but–where is my finger supposed to be such that it is positioned correctly to make such a measurement, anyway? I haven’t even gotten this far in the thought process and there would remain, had I done so, such unanswered questions.

“I only got part of the tree,” I say, in as casual a tone as possible. Let’s not put anyone on the defensive. No problem. I can take the heat on this. Just snap a few more.

I back up and kneel down to get the whole shot in. But now the camera won’t focus. “It’s having a hard time focusing,” I say, and she repeats, (kindly, calmly, with great hidden effort) “You have to hold the button halfway down and then pan up.”

“Ahah, yes,” I say (or did I just think it?) and focus the camera on her, then move the camera upwards to get the whole tree.

Now more obviously frustrated, she says “That’s fine.” She says this without regard to whether I’ve actually successfully taken a shot–which I have. She clearly is simply done.

She takes the camera from me, which is still strapped to my neck, and looks through the lens. “Don’t move,” she says brusquely. As she tries to find the shot I say “I did get one of you and the whole tree,” and she replies “Yeah but you have to pan the camera up.”

“I did pan up.”

“It looked like you were moving the whole camera,” she says. “You have to do…” and with her hands she makes a smaller motion than I did–moving the whole camera, I insist she moved the whole camera–but a smaller rotating motion.

She doesn’t give me another chance, she’s in a hurry and doesn’t want to block the sidewalk. We walk back to the van. “I thought I was panning,” I say, “but I guess you really mean more ‘rotating’ than ‘moving’ the camera?” (Fuck I think to myself. I know better than to say 'I guess you mean," that’s practically gaslighting whether I mean it that way or not.. Too late. I hope she didn’t notice.)

“No,” she says, now a note of explicit bitterness in her voice. “I don’t mean ‘rotate’.”

We get in the van.

“Well…?” I’m allowing my voice now to be a bit explicitly pissed because what the hell does she mean? “How do you pan the camera without moving it?”

A sigh from her. “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

I spend the rest of the van trip fantasizing about refusing to speak to her about any other matter until she has successfully communicated to me what she wanted me to do–or else explicitly acknowledged that she’s terrible at communicating these things and has no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s head. And she’s just like my dad goddammit.

Of course such things are pure fantasy that must never (and can never) be made reality.

And when we get home, she talks to me about how the meeting she went to today about how to care for her friend’s dying son was a very hard meeting.

But anyway yeah that happened and I totally understand and I’m not bitter. Except this kind of failure to communicate happens to us all the time, and she thinks I’m an idiot about certain things, and I think she has no idea how to talk about things she finds very natural (whereas I myself do know how to talk about things I find very natural, hence I’m not applying a double standard or anything) and I really would like to know

what the hell did she want me to do with that camera?

Stuff like this is why my EX is my EX.

Not so much the miscommunication but the fact she loved to START a fight about it rather than figure out where the disconnect was. The fact she made no sense sometimes to start with didn’t help matters either.

As I often pleaded “words have meanings!”

My husband needs to repeat things many times to feel like he’s adequately communicated - it doesn’t matter how hard I’m listening, what indications I’ve given that I’m listening or really have anything to do with me. He just needs to say it again. And again. And again.

On the other hand, when someone repeats things to me too many times, I take that as a sign that that person thinks I’m stupid. As you can imagine, getting used to our separate styles of communication have been challenging to us both. It doesn’t help that he seems to go through a mini-mid-life crisis (“What does it all mean?!”, particularly with respect to our children) about every 2-3 months.

I’ve urged him to find someone impartial such as a counselor or therapist to speak to in the event he’s actually looking for life-coaching and because I think he’ll probably get more sympathy from a professional at this point, but so far with no luck. It’s immensely frustrating when he’s on a downward spiral. I wouldn’t be surprised to find he has depression, but unfortunately, he really doesn’t feel right speaking to someone else about it.

I know I’m irritating in a lot of ways - if you get the “gist” of something I’m saying, I feel it unnecessary to provide additional information, frequently don’t want to talk about things, etc. So he’s absolutely not the only person “at fault” here.

overlyverbose, I’m not saying this is you, but my husband thinks I repeat myself ten thousand times and it’s because half the time he isn’t listening. He thinks he is but turns out he wasn’t. Or doesn’t remember. Or whatever.

Frylock’s wife… Was that all really about the dying guy and that’s why she was upset? Or is that normal? Because if it’s normal to flip her lid when asked a question, then some talking about it should happen. If it isn’t and she was upset about something else, let it go.

Yeah, sorry, Frylock, but that shouldn’t be called an “everyday communication disconnect” as it seems much more serious than that to me.

You may want to watch this, a very short video about the “four horsemen of the acopolypse” in marriage. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse | The Gottman Institute - YouTube

There’s some of that in our marriage too. It comes and goes. I’m definitely guilty about the impatient tech advice. She can make things as clear as mud to me more often than I’m comfortable with. Whether that’s my fault or hers varies. Frustrating as hell. Takes a lot more work than I’d ever suspected.

Honestly, you’re probably right - after the first one or two times I hear something, I do tend to glaze over, which is likely immensely frustrating. My husband is, believe or not, way more verbose than I am and his problems rarely change, so I often feel like I’m listening to a repeat of the same discussion we’ve had for the last 10 years.

So often he’ll start speaking and I focus on what he’s saying, but after he’s talking for a while and I’m hearing the same thing as always or he’s asking for advice but rebutting every comment, I mentally start wandering away. “Dammit. I’m hungry. It’s almost time for me to go to bed. I’m going to feel like shit tomorrow. If he’d do something about this, it wouldn’t matter that I’d feel like shit because something positive would be done - we’d be moving in the right direction. But that doesn’t happen often. Maybe it will this time. Ugh, I wish we could do this later.” It’s possible he’s just looking for an outlet for venting, but it’s aggravating when someone insists about talking through the same problem and never solves it.

Like I said, I’m probably enormously frustrating to him, too - somehow I turned into the Pollyanna in this relationship, and I imagine that my constantly countering him with positives to his negatives is just incredibly annoying. But, dammit, I’ve got to have a good outlook or I’ll be as miserable as he is. He’s on a bit of a downward spiral lately; tends to last about 2 weeks and it’s aggravating knowing that this whole cycle will just be repeated again in another 2-3 months. Oh, well - I guess you could argue that I know what to expect.

<30 second wikipedia expert>

Wiki says that panning is always in the horizontal plane, usually by rotating the camera but it does allow that it may be by moving the whole camera side to side, like on a dolly.

Tilt is the correct term for moving a camera on the vertical plane.

Clearly she was speaking gibberish because there’s no such thing as panning the camera up. The man in me wants you to rub this in her face. The married man in me knows better.

Right, but she was thinking purely from the viewpoint of looking through the viewfinder (or at the camera’s little screen). She was basically saying, “Do whatever you need to with the camera itself, so that looking at its little screen/viewfinder will resemble panning up on, say, Google Maps as viewed on any device.”

I think my response to all that would have been “You know there’s a selfie mode on your smartphone, right?”

This is a case where passive-aggression is appropriate. Just take a picture, smile, and say, “Got it!” and let her discover it later. If she tries to pick a fight over it, smile again and say, “I’m such a klutz!” Repeat until she never asks you to take pictures again.

Shiver, I hate this kind of bickering.

Buy her a selfie stick for Christmas.

The solution, where I live, is simply to be open enough, and honest enough to blurt out; “Yeah, I don’t really know what that means!”, “Sorry, still not getting it!”, “You’re gonna need to translate that for me!”

(I confess to, on occasion, just mimicking the dog; tilting my head askew and appearing utterly bewildered!)

And, sometimes the end game amounts to, “Okay, now I don’t think you’re even trying to make sense. I’m out. You’re on your own!”

Works for us!

But… that’s what I did!

All stuff about communication etc aside, I have to admit the thing I’m most burningly curious about is what exactly she wanted me to be doing. I will probably never find out!

Heheh no this would not work in our case.

I’ll put it this way–one way my wife expresses her love for people is by depending on them. That may sound some way to some people but facts is facts.

Well, I mean, this is just an episodic thing, not a constant all the time thing. And only on certain topics, and those aren’t topics central to the relationship or anything. Annoyance, in other words, not deep issues.

But I am familiar with the concept in that video and it is something I keep on my mind.

Also just a real serious difference in our conflict styles which we’ve been aware of since before we got married. I tend to stew in my aggravation over things and either stonewall or explode (when I’m not watching myself I mean). Meanwhile, things like this seem to just completely roll off of her after the actual incident is finished. Like, to her it’s really no thing. She’s frustrated, then the event is over, and there are no further implications. I absolutely don’t get that on any visceral level, but it’s a fact I know is true so I work consciously to keep it in mind.

On certain topics (usually ones having to do with physical manouvers) this is a fairly normal kind of conversation for us to get into. She doesn’t flip her lid though–and didn’t in this case. It’s more of a brusque impatience combined with clear frustration. It honestly hurts my feelings a lot, hence my being angry about it, but it doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing progress is likely to happen on (we’ve been married nearly 17 years), and it’s not actually important (we will survive a failure to take a picture the right way or a slowing down of the assembly of a desk or whatever the topic of the month may be…) so I mean, some things you just live with and move around…

I mean of course I think “I’m right” and “she’s wrong” but just to be clear, I do things that can seem pretty damn annoying to anyone with a modicum of common sense.

An example from the same incident. At the very beginning when I first held the camera up, I was holding it in landscape orientation. Just as I was thinking ‘ah this is a vertical subject, I need to rotate to portrait’ she made a rotating motion and sort of made, you know, a friendly pity face me as she said “you have to rotate it.”

So here’s the thing. Never in my entire life will I ever bring the camera up at portrait first, not because I don’t want to have that habit but because, it’s just not how I operate. I don’t think it will be possible for me not to think through the right orientation via actually putting it up the wrong way, realizing the correction is needed, then making the correction. I seem to just not have it in me to visualize all this ahead of time. I gotta make the mistake, then correct it.

This. Drives. Her. Bonkers. And I think understandably so. I mean how could I not know beforehand? But it’s a fact–I don’t know beforehand. The question doesn’t even come to mind, and I don’t know how to make it do so. I just have a “bring camera up” reflex that brings it into landscape, then when necessary, the “rotate to portrait” reflex kicks in. Every time I have to make the mistake, figure out what’s wrong, and fix it.

Similar things happen in other contexts. Putting together the desk, I can never move a piece right into place in the correct orientation–I have to move it over into the right area first, then make separate motions til I get it figured out. Again: This. Drives. Her. MAAAAAD. I think to her it looks like a combination of incredible, childish incompetence and a kind of laziness and inefficiency. But I don’t think I will ever be able to fix it. Sad for me! But again, people live through this.

This is why I had to leave my parents house Saturday, ice or not.

My mother reads EVERYTHING out loud. Street signs, cereal boxes, closed captioning, you name it. My dad can’t see much anymore so he does rely on her reading some things to him. She has no filter, however, and reads it all. They both are having trouble hearing and both speak softly.

“Use by September 2016”
“I didn’t hear you.”
“It says to use by September 2016.”
“Use what by September 2016?”
“WHAT am I supposed to use by September 2016.”
“Oh, the box.”
“The box of WHAT?”

Christmas time’s a-comin’ with round 2.

It sounds like you did exactly what she wanted for that last picture – focused on her, then tilted the camera up to get the whole tree without changing the focus. All that stuff about fingers in the middle and moving the whole camera were just the incomprehensible ramblings of a lunatic.