Microcorrections

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 1.206% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

One of the weird things about my relationship with my wife is that we’ll preemptively apologize.

For things that probably don’t matter.

And we’ll do it without really thinking about it.

For example, I’ll say something like, “So when is Amy getting back from the dentist?”  At which point I’ll realize that I was barking that question out with no preface, my tone a little flinty, as if Gini had somehow inconvenienced me by lending our car to our daughter.

So I’ll follow that up quickly with, “Whoah, that came off way angrier than I’d intended it.  Like, lending our car to our kid is a normal event.”

And she’ll go, “Thankfully, I didn’t interpret that as angry,” and tells me when Amy will be back.

And sometimes Gini will say, “Hey, we need to talk about your date this weekend” and I’ll cringe, and then Gini will hold up her hands and go, “Whoah, why did that sound so bitchy – I like Laura!  I just wanted to know whether you needed the spare bedroom.”

And I’ll reply, “Yeah, I gotta say, I totally flinched,” and she’ll hug me and say “No, it’s cool, just a timing issue.”

Here’s the thing: this happens a couple times a day.  Minimum.  To either of us.  “Hey, you gonna walk the dog – wait, why am I sounding so sad about that?”  “Come on, we gotta get to dinner – I’m okay, it’s cool, just get your purse.”

You’d think it’d be a quirk – and it is, hoo boy, it is – but a lot of time we wind up in microconversations about managing tone.  Because yeah, that did sound impatient to one of us, and we confirm that our reaction was what we thought it was, and the other partner then apologizes and we check in with each other.

But what we’re apologizing for, it’s hard to call it an upset.  We haven’t really had time to get more than a flash of emotion before it’s handled.  At best it’s a mild jostle before we’re sweeping the other partner’s elbow in ours to ask, “You okay?”

And yet it’s useful.

Because what I realized we were doing was constantly modulating our tone to each other – one confirming this is how they came off, the other confirming they had in fact grokked proper intent.  It’s a constant feedback loop of checking in, verifying, honing.

You might think we do it to be nice – and we do, mostly.  But now that I ponder it, there’s the flip side that when we are properly irritated, or instantiating a Serious Conversation, or self-pitying that you get to walk the dog on a nice day, we are tuning into the correct negative emotion.

Say what you will about expressing bad feelings – but when one of us does, our ears are pricked.

And I think that’s one of the reasons Gini and I have such good communication flow – years of nailing down what “tense” looks like helps us during arguments, because we do generally have a good bead on when things are about to boil over.  (Not that we don’t have arguments that boil over – I’d like to tell you every difference we have could be settled over genteel tea and cupcakes, but no, sometimes voices get raised.)

And I also know, sadly, that is one of the reasons some of my other relationships haven’t worked out – I hate talking in real time through phone or Skype, and it’s cumbersome to “hear” tone properly via text.  The tendency is to go shorthand – but a single “Oh?” in response to a tricky question can have a myriad of responses ranging from “stiff surprise” to “Tell me more,” and constantly tagging every “Oh?” with a “What did you mean by that?” can get to sound mighty tetchy on its own.

But constantly verifying communication correctness is something I do in real life, and it does help on visits.  And I think it’s sort of nice to have that feedback loop at such a trivial level – like I said, apologies are offered, but they’re not for much of an offense.

Which I think helps train Gini and me to think of apologies as an easy thing to give – it gets us in the habit.  Offering genuine apologies for tiny bumps makes it a lot easier to give mid-level apologies – “Okay, I should have checked Google Calendar first to see if you had an appointment before offering Amy the car” – and the large apologies of “I should have put my date for this weekend on Google Calendar in the first place.”

Yet in the meanwhile, we’re doing little work.  All the time.  Several times a day.

Sounds nice to us.

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.