I recently saw a preview for an animated movie in which a DMV office is entirely run by three-toed sloths. The animals good-naturedly process paperwork in slow motion while a customer in a hurry tries desperately to keep her composure. It’s maddening and absolutely hilarious.
And I can definitely identify.
When I met Ben, I quickly learned that he was a man of few words. The ones he did say were deliberate and carefully thought out, and it was almost impossible to rush his process. When I began to suspect Ben liked me after a year of platonic friendship, I asked him about his feelings directly (yes, I’m the confrontational one in the relationship.)
He admitted that he did have feelings for me, but then asked me to wait a week so he could think it over, talk to some people, and decide what he wanted to do. What agony.
When we got to know each other well enough to start having fights, they followed a similar pattern. Typically, I would raise an issue that I thought needed to be addressed. Then, I would wait. And wait. And wait.
Sometimes we’d have our conversation or conflict that evening, with long pauses between each exchange as Ben decided what he wanted to say. Sometimes, I would raise an issue and it would take days or a week for Ben to process the problem and share his thoughts with me. Especially in conflict, he wanted to be sure to say the right thing, and for the right reasons.
For a multi-tasker with a penchant for quick responses and a touch of ADD, this was torture.
And when Ben was the one with a bone to pick, it was even worse. He would wait days or longer to tell me that something I had done had bothered him. During that time, he would process what had happened and decide if he could drop the issue and move on, or if it was important enough to confront me about it. So, when he did bring something up, it meant that it was a big deal and he’d put a lot of thought into the problem.
Often after all that time, though, I couldn’t remember what I’d said, or found it difficult to care so long after the fact. We had so many uncomfortable silences, and so many misunderstandings. It drove me crazy.
But at some point before we got married, someone encouraged me to respect Ben’s process and try to allow time for him to work things out. So, I slowed way down. Whenever I could, I brought up issues well ahead of a crisis, to allow Ben all the time he needed to think them over. I tried hard not to hound him right away for answers. I made an effort not to restate my case over and over in the meantime.
It was hard, and it took a lot of practice, but it has paid off in our relationship. Our fights tend to run at the pace of a volleyball game, with time between each serve. If it were up to me, they’d look more like a frenzied game of ping pong. On an ideal day, we make our points, listen, speak in a pattern that helps us to avoid getting caught up in the heat of the fight. For Ben’s part, he has tried to bring issues to my attention more quickly so we can address them before the moment has passed.
Like anything else, it’s not perfect, but it has helped us bond, even as we fight. So, next time you and your significant other have conflict brewing, I recommend you try fighting in slow motion.