Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I’ve been seeing “Jeff” for about six months and things have generally been great. Our lives seem to have just fit perfectly together, and a few weeks ago, I moved in with him.
Cue the big 7.0 earthquake. It scared the heck out of me (I’m from the Midwest where we have zero earthquakes). Jeff and I carpool to work and when the quake struck, we had both just settled into our desks. We immediately texted and agreed to go home immediately to assess the damage.
The entire drive home, Jeff talked nonstop about all the things that were probably wrong — the pipes probably broke, the power was probably out, my great-aunt’s antiques were probably smashed to smithereens, the cat had probably run away, etc. Here I was already scared and freaking out, and he just made it worse and worse by talking up all the horrible things that could have gone wrong. When we got home — well, it was bad. But it could have been worse. The windows were intact, the wall cracks were minimal, but the entire day he just stomped around the house cussing and complaining about all the things that were broken and how horrible it was.
When I suggested he try being positive, he flew off the handle and said I couldn’t possibly understand because it was his house, not mine. Ouch. So much for thinking of it as our home. I said the earthquake scared me, frankly, and I needed a partner who would make me feel safe and protected, not scare me more by focusing on the negative. He told me I was being ridiculous.
The whole thing has flooded my mind with doubts. Maybe Jeff isn’t the guy I thought he was. His behavior during the crisis just really upset me. Should I let it go, or could there be something to this?
You can learn a lot about someone from how they act under pressure. Thankfully for Anchorage’s collective sanity, we don’t deal with massive, traumatic earthquakes every day, and managing through an intensified period of uncertainty and fear is a rarity in most relationships day-to-day. Still, you were in a vulnerable spot, and rather than feel comforted by your partner, his negativity worsened the experience for you, which is too bad.
This was for sure an extreme case. It’s not every day that the highway cracks in half and schools shut down for a week. Heck, Brown Jug even closed! That never happens! While I’m sure it stung to hear Jeff assert his emotional and actual ownership of his home, it’s a fact nonetheless. He’s sunk savings and time into his residential investment, so it’s natural he’d be feeling a more extreme level of stress and anxiety in facing its damages.
It’s worth remembering that how people behave during intense periods of stress and crisis is usually very different from how they deal with everyday annoyances — meaning your dude may be dropping F-bombs and predicting dire outcomes when faced with the potential demise of his own home, but might be a bit more zen in managing through a fender-bender or bad day at work. You’re only six months in; frankly, it’s probably too soon to know for sure what speeds he shifts into based on external circumstances. I’d pay attention, know your needs and boundaries, but don’t bail just yet.
Well, hopefully you won’t have another opportunity to find out how he reacts in the face of an Alaska-sized natural disaster like that dang earthquake …
But it is highly likely that something bad and out of his control will rock his world in the years ahead. And it is highly likely that you’ll be standing at the epicenter as he releases his emotional shock waves.
You know, the worst time to prepare for an earthquake is during an earthquake. So how about doing some emotional preparedness with your boyfriend before the next catastrophe strikes? The quake, its aftershocks and damage, the poor homes and pets, and all of its aftermath had everyone in Alaska — including you two — feeling scared, anxious, helpless, and yeah, even angry. Not exactly the best time to tell him how disappointed you are in his response to your needs.
So, relax and get out of your head. Clean the house. Let the dust settle and the aftershocks dissipate. Wait for daily life to return to some routine of normalcy. Then find a nice calm space to talk to him about that day and that traumatic experience, how you both felt, and why you said and did the things you did. Now that’s how you prepare for a big-time calamity and a long-term relationship.