When Jonathan and I found Lora in one of the bedrooms to talk to her, she was in the spare bedroom, crying her eyes out. I simultaneously cared (I hate seeing people cry, especially people that I care about) and gave zero fucks, because no matter how upsetting this all was for her, we needed to have a fucking grown up conversation like fucking adults who talk out their fucking issues instead of either screaming insults and abuse at someone or ignoring the problems and hoping they’ll go away if we just act like they’re not there.
So I started by saying that I wanted both of them to know that I didn’t consider this talk to mean that I now had carte blanche to weigh into their relationship whenever I wanted, and be supervising their relationship. In an ideal world, we’re going to have this conversation once, and things will get improve (actually, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have this conversation at all, but whatever. details…). I didn’t expect it to get totally better over night, but I did expect certain things to start changing now. And I told them that anything I was saying needed to change was a rule for all of us. Myself included. I pull any of this shit, you call me on it. I also wanted them to know that certain other things were going to start happening, from now on. If they weren’t acceptable, we can’t live together.
The first of those things was that whenever I heard their arguing go to a place where nothing useful was being said, I was going to walk into the room, and tell them that they needed to separate. At that point, I turned to Lora and I told her that the things that were said to Jon were not acceptable. I told her that I was worried about having this conversation with her because I didn’t want me telling her that to mean that she’d only fight with him like that when I wasn’t around (she assured me that she wouldn’t do that, and I believe her, but we’ll get to that later). She also agreed that it wasn’t acceptable. I said it’s bad, it’s incredibly hurtful to all of us (herself included), and it needs to stop. I told her that never knowing when a fight would break out, but knowing lately that it was two or three times a week was terrible. I didn’t want to come home after work anymore. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own home. And I didn’t imagine it felt any better for either of them.
I wasn’t sure how either of them would react to that, but they both agreed and said that they thought it would be helpful for someone to call a time out when they didn’t call one on their own. Jon said that he felt like part of the problem is that they’ve fought about the same things so many times that there are a lot of fights that when they start, one of them gets defensive and then the other gets defensive and angry it cycles off into screaming and crying from there. I have to say, it broke my heart a little bit to hear him taking equal responsibility for their fighting getting out of control, because in all the fights I’ve ever heard them have, Jon hasn’t been the person to escalate the fight even once. Which isn’t to say that I think he’s perfect or that I think he’s never escalated a fight. I’m sure he has…maybe five percent of the time. What I’ve heard, time and again, is Lora demanding Jon do something (or not do something) and Jon pushing back that he wasn’t going to agree to whatever Lora wanted – usually, he tries to make it as much a compromise as he possibly can, but a lot of her fights aren’t really…based in reality (like the way a 20 minute conversation with me was a signal to her that Jon doesn’t think she’s important and so spurred a day-long fight), so they’re hard to compromise on. Her demands get increasingly strident as she tries to bully him into agreeing to something by being insulting, then saying that if he doesn’t do X, he clearly doesn’t care about her, and then ultimately threatening to break up with him.
How he wouldn’t get defensive (knowing this was coming) is beyond me. But I’ve heard him keep an amazingly even voice and (more importantly) not get angry. Just calmly assert his rights as a person over and over again. And try to make it clear to her in a calm, compassionate manner that she’s trying to cross a boundary. Which typically ends in her screaming threats, no matter how calmly he presents this (My blood. It boils. Just mentally recalling all the fights I’ve heard).
But I digress…back on the subject…
They also talked about how they wished that they could call a time-out on their own, but didn’t know how. Ok, I said. I’ve talked to a friend who is a therapist before. She told her clients that when they’re afraid an argument is going to turn ugly and stop bring productive, they need a safeword to signal that they’re scared and need to take a break. Part of the key is to make it ridiculous and specific, so that it’s hard to say angry after saying (or hearing) it. She’s suggested “glittery hamster nuts”, which is just completely absurd – and what is that anyways? (no, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know)
They both thought it sounded like a good idea. They both also agreed that taking a fifteen minute time out (and setting a clock or phone or something to go off in fifteen minutes) would also help give them a specific time to be apart and gather control and get distance. After fifteen minutes, they can decide if they need more time, or are ready to talk and take more time, or talk.
My next (non-negotiable) thought was that Lora needed therapy for her anger issues. She tearfully said that she’s had a problem with getting out of control when she’s angry since she’s been a child, and she knows it’s terrible and hates it and doesn’t know how to stop it (which is why I don’t think she’s going to stop arguing around me. people with genuine anger problems can’t stop once they get to a certain point. If she really can’t stop when she gets to a certain point, then she won’t be able to stop fighting when I’m around. If she start being able to hold her temper only when I’m around…well…I won’t know unless someone tells me. If it happens though…we’re done living together). Even though her health insurance is bad, I told her, you need to find a therapist. We will find the money. This is not something that can be held off on any longer, because controlling that level of anger without therapy to teach her new ways of handling her anger isn’t going to work. And if she doesn’t learn to manage her anger better, we can’t live together. I can’t live with her. She said that she understood. She wants to figure it out. She knows now that she really needs to figure it out. She’s ready to get to the bottom of this and do better, because she knows that we all need her to do that.
So with her vehemently agreeing that it is time for her to take control of this and work on herself, I said that I would ask around to our friends and see who had recommendations for low-cost therapy.
Lastly, I said, I’m going to start speaking up more about time. I said that I don’t want to be an asshole who counts and weighs every second. But with Jon leaving the next day, having barely seen him for days on end felt really shitty and unfair. I do believe in giving partners and metamours a certain amount of latitude to work on their relationship and not demanding exactly equal time all the time. But giving them time to have cyclical arguments isn’t helping them and it feels terrible to all of us. Lora agreed that I should spend a lot of time with Jon this weekend, which sounds great on paper, but in reality…Jon is working most of the day Saturday and Sunday. I suspect that Lora is going to be upset because his time is going to be limited, and I’m going to be quite firm that, at the very last, we’re able to share his time equally this weekend (and in the future).
Theoretically, it ended on a positive note. We all agreed that the fighting has to get less frequent, and that Lora needs to learn not to threaten and insult Jon when she’s angry. We all agreed that Lora needs therapy NOW. We all agreed that the last few weeks have been awful, and that my needs and ability to have time with Jon have both been greatly hampered and pushed aside by Lora and Jon’s fighting. It’s fantastic that we’re on the same page with those things, and it sounds like we all know what we need to work towards. And I do think that all of us have good intentions. But whether or not we’re able to follow through with all these good intentions and plans…only time will tell.