Pausing in the Gap: Trying to Force An Answer Is Not the Way

Pausing in the Gap: Trying to Force An Answer Is Not the Way

I like to have the answer. I like people to make a decision when I give them options. In my past relationships, my impatience has led to struggles for both me and my partner. Often the problem comes when I am trying to force a resolution.

In the past, I had a partner who had a hard time deciding where she wanted to eat. I’d say something like, “Well, can we start with what kind of food you want to get?”

“Um, I don’t really care.”

“All right, how about breakfast tacos?”

“No.”

“TexMex?

“No.”

“Okay, how about Italian or Thai?”

“I don’t know.”

STOP.

Okay, this is a simplified example. But here is what I’ve learned about myself (that I am attempting to understand better in this post) in this example.

  1. I want her to make a choice
  2. I get frustrated when she doesn’t want to choose
  3. If you’re not going to make a choice, you are saying YOU CAN DECIDE.

The more I tried to get her to answer my request the more frightened, flustered, she became, making it even harder for her to think clearly. What I needed to do was ask, “Where do you want to eat?” and then stop. My frustration came into play when I wanted to rush her into a decision. And as I pushed she became less clear on what she wanted or what she didn’t want.

I think this type of transaction between partners happens all the time. And here’s the new learning: I don’t really need to force the answer. I can pause in the gap. Enjoy the unknowing. And give my partner the time to reason out their answer without my pressure or frustration.

Here’s a process variation, using a different example:

“What do you want to do tonight?”

“I don’t care.”

“Okay, how about that new series on HBO?”

“No, I don’t think I want to watch a movie.”

“Okay, how about I give you a massage?”

Sarcastic look, “Um… No.”

“I guess we can just stay here in bed and read together?”

“Um, that’s a bit boring.”

“Okay.” Pause. Breathe. Pause. “What would you like to do?”

“I don’t know.”

Pause. Breathe. Pause.

It’s important that the gap be filled eventually. But my need to force a plan of action is about my impatience. If I can release my partner from my need for an immediate solution, I can allow them to fill in the gap themselves.

When a request is made for input about “what should we do tonight” then both partners have a responsibility to give their ideas/opinions. A general request about “tonight” can lead to one partner or another always taking the lead to find the movie, find the next series to watch, initiate sex, plan a date night. But in a balanced partnership, both people would be willing to offer and contribute their energy and ideas towards a mutual solution. Perhaps a couple could take turns managing “what’s for entertainment tonight” moments.

It’s the gap that is hard for me to manage. When I don’t know, or I don’t understand what’s going on with my partner I might try to force them to answer me. I might try and power towards a resolution of a disagreement and in doing so cause my partner unnecessary stress. If I can lay back just a bit, and allow the gap to exist for both of us…

In the gap we both find answers within ourselves. If we’re always forcing an answer we might miss the information that is rising up in us and in our partners. If I race towards the answer and don’t pause for my partner, I can force an answer and get the wrong solution. I might force a YES from her about Thai food, but she might be unhappy with that choice. If we’re in a new relationship this lack of pause is going to be an issue. In a long-term relationship, we might be more tolerant of a gap crasher, but that doesn’t make it any less troublesome.

A gap crasher is someone who can’t stand there to be a moment of indecision. A gap crasher might be uncomfortable with a state I call the “edge of the unknown.” At the moment I ask my partner where they want to go for dinner I am asking for some clarity about what is going to happen in the near future. If I am really willing to accept their input, I am entering into the edge of the unknown because I do not know where she is going to suggest we go eat.

In love relationships the gap crasher in me has caused difficulties. In the case of the woman who couldn’t decide but could easily say “no” we ended up parting ways. In our parting I began to understand more about my impact on her fragile and introverted system. Intoverts and extroverts can be in a relationship together, but the gate crashing, type-a, extrovert must carry a lot of extra self-awareness to not run over the more “paused” personality of the introvert.

If you find yourself rushing into the gap and trying to force your partner to choose, “right now,” try and give yourself and them a little pause. Take a breath. Pause. Then accept the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing. And allow your own feelings to arise. It’s okay to be frustrated at the other person for not being able to make a decision. But it’s really my problem and not theirs. They may have a slower processing system than mine. They may, in fact, be considering a number of exceptional options for our next food adventure. If I force the issue, drive towards an immediate conclusion we may end up at McDonald’s. And that’s not where either of us really wanted to go.

Can you stop and listen to your partner, even when they are not able to satisfy your need for a solution? Can you allow the gap be felt by both of you? And then, if you’re like me, and more driven, can you hold your impatience long enough to let the other person have their voice first?

If you can pause and consider the gap when you feel frustrated or impatient, you can tune in to your own feelings more accurately. And if you give your partner the opportunity to fill the gap you may learn something you didn’t know, and something you couldn’t have learned had you continued to be a gap crasher.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
@wholeparent

See more from the Dating Again section of The Whole Parent

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