While on vacation, Laura overheard her boyfriend take a phone call that he clearly did not want to take. His end of the conversation was brief and abrupt. He seemed uncomfortable and explained that he was on vacation and had been unable to get back to them. He said he would be in touch when he returned. Ordinarily, he would have announced who called and give a bit of a synopsis of the conversation. This time he didn't...
Laura and Jim were close and in a committed relationship. Over the course of their six-month relationship, they had come to know each other's friends, families, and co-workers. They always spent their weekends together, even some weeknights. Laura was always open about what she was up to and assumed Jim was equally open with her. Had she assumed too much? Laura didn't ask about the phone call and Jim didn't offer to disclose who it was, even though he knew Laura heard his side of the call. There it was - the seeds of distrust and insecurity.
Should Laura ask? Did she have the right to ask? Should she wait for him to tell her? Would she believe him if he told her? Should she just let it go?
At first, Laura acted as if nothing had happened. Jim, on the other hand, was avoiding eye contact and seemed lost in thought. Clearly, to Laura, these were signs he was hiding something, or maybe, was she just being paranoid? Laura felt the fear move through her body. Her breathing changed. Her face flushed. She could feel herself starting to get a stomach ache. She went to the refrigerator to find something that would calm her nerves. When her suspicion finally got the best of her, she asked about the phone call. Jim responded to her question with a matter of fact answer. It was a business associate with whom he had a bit of a falling out. Laura was familiar with this man and they’re falling out so when she heard why he was calling, it all made sense. Wow... She had eaten over 1,000 calories in the time between the phone call and his explanation. She really felt foolish. Why had she not trusted him? More importantly, why had she not inquired right away? It was a lesson. She could have avoided the disastrous eating choices had she not let the stress build. She made the connection between her avoidance of confrontation and her stress-eating. She put the issue to rest and enjoyed the rest of her vacation.
It's easy to see how addressing an issue can avoid unnecessary stress. The situation with Laura was a no-brainer. She should have asked him about the call as soon as she had a concern. But what if the story had played out differently? What if Jim said it was an "old friend" and offered no further explanation?
Laura couldn't help but think the "old friend" was an old girlfriend. Or maybe it was a current love interest. Why was he so uncomfortable if it was an old friend? Laura felt in her heart of heart's that something was up. She was afraid. Her breathing changed. Her face flushed and her stomach started to hurt. She went to the refrigerator to find something to calm her nerves.
Many questions ran through her head. Should she demand to see his phone? Should she sneak and look at his phone? Should she bring up this messy conversation and risk the fall out of an argument in the middle of their vacation? Could she even enjoy the rest of her vacation with these questions in her mind? Maybe this wasn't the best time to bring up this conversation. Or was it?
When to address an issue is an important question. Generally, the more immediately, the better. But sometimes you can't have the conversation you need to have at that moment. Having "that" conversation at the end of a long day or in front of other people makes the chance of successful resolution much more unlikely. But there is a difference between temporarily postponing a conversation and avoiding it entirely. Sometimes with the passing of time, it doesn't seem worth it to bring up the issue and go through "that" again.
Without the regular discipline of weeding out unresolved emotions, the seeds of distrust and insecurity sprout and take hold. The longer you wait, the deeper the weeds take hold and the more difficult to eradicate. What was once a beautiful garden can quickly become a tangled mess of weeds and vines that seem impossible to remove without tearing up everything.
For some couples, the conversations occur but there is no resolution. Rather than leading to a greater understanding, it is more like driving your car around in a circle in the mud. Each pass gets you nowhere and leaves you even more stuck. It's understandable wanting to avoid the issue altogether. But avoidance is just leaving the mess for another day, perhaps a day even more inconvenient. These couples (and individuals) need help in learning to resolve conflict and work through their feelings. This is when therapy or counseling can be remarkably helpful.
If you can relate to avoiding emotions, stress from suppressing emotions, and stress eating to cope with your issues, these are all signs you might need help.