“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says.

And we both know that he’s full of shit, although only one of us has any clue to what extent.  And it’s not me.

He folds his arms across his chest, a visual cue that he’s closing himself off from me.  He smiles a little to reassure me, but he doesn’t exactly make eye contact.

I have no idea what it is, but it is most definitely not nothing.

I read somewhere that men say “nothing” when what they mean is “nothing I want to talk about” or “nothing I can’t handle on my own”.  I try to remind myself of that when what I hear is “nothing I’m willing to share with you”.  I try to remind myself that “nothing” is not necessarily code for “something you did that I’m not going to tell you about.”  I try not to take it personally.

But rejection feels personal.

And when he pretends not to see my outstretched hand, it’s impossible not to see that as rejection.  It feels like rejection when I can no longer feel his presence inside me, when the connection is gone.  It’s as if he’s unplugged from me, and the energy that’s been freely flowing back and forth between us is replaced by something cold and empty and lifeless.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2009, it’s that labeling something as nothing leads to unmet needs and heartache.

And so I resolve to keep reaching.

I consciously avoid turning to my old familiar exits.  I’m tempted to take my pain and run, looking for someone or something else to fill the void left by the distance between us.  I pick up the phone, and hang it up again.  I make a list of things to buy, and throw it away before I have a chance to breakout the medicinal debit card.  I consider building my own wall of fines and nothings, and then I take a deep breath and lay down my weapons.

“I love you,” I say.

“I love you, too,” he repeats.

“Whatever is going on with you, it’s not nothing,” I push.

“It’s not you,” he assures me.

“It may not be me,” I concede, “but it’s something.”  And I go on to explain the hurt to him.  I do not yell or cry or hurl accusations, but neither do I pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t.  I do my best to make specific requests about what I need to feel connected, so that at least he has the option of accepting my invitation.

I unclench my fists and uncurl my fingers.  I close my eyes, I say a prayer, and I wait.  For the nothingness to give way to something.

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  1. Jo says:

    I’m so proud of you. So very proud.

  2. Finn says:

    That’s a huge step, hon. I love watching your progress and learning along with you.

    I’m sorry that “nothing” is bothering Jared. Hope it passes quickly.

  3. bo says:

    In the book ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,’ one of the subplots deals with a couple who have declared parts of their home as Nothing spaces. You can’t pay attention to anything that goes on in the Nothing space; you have to make like it’s not there. They start with a small square in the bedroom where they each undress, but then decide they need one in the living room and then in the hallway until they have to draw up a blueprint and hang it inside the door so they each know what is Something and what is Nothing.

    At first I thought this was one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. In light of your post, though, I think I understand that mapping out what is Something and what is Nothing may be key to making the whole thing work.

  4. JJ says:

    Are you sure you aren’t talking about my husband on this one??? It sounds way similar to what goes on in our household.. Thanks for sharing, your take on the situation gives me insight to how I can handle things differently..

  5. Deb says:

    Nothing is always something. The response of nothing always leads to an argument in my house, because I just can’t let go.

    Thanks for sharing a way of how to let go.

  6. Lisa says:

    Thank you. I’m the one guilty of using “nothing” when I don’t want to talk about what is obviously something. Now you’ve shown me how my hubs might feel when I do this and I know I need to change the way I say it.

  7. Stacy says:

    I learn so much from you….

  8. Nancy says:

    You guys are very brave. Keep at it. The walls build up far too easily. Trust me on that.

  9. muskrat says:

    When I say “nothing,” what I mean is, “I need oral sex.”

    I’m here to help.

  10. When my husband says “Nothing” it usually means that he’s worried about something (bills, work drama) and he doesn’t think I should worry about it.

    It would be better if he said “Oh, it’s just a money thing, but I’ll figure it out”.

    Maybe Jared is saying “nothing” because he doesn’t want to bring up a subject that could potentially turn into a fight. It’s hard for guys to put some things into words that won’t make us go ballistic.

  11. laprimera says:

    I hope I can say this without sounding bitchy or condescending… but I’m proud of you, Britt. Inspiring, you truly are. Love and hugs to you!

  12. Sometimes I have to pry SO hard at Mike to get him to tell me what’s wrong. It’s so hard not to take it personally when he won’t say. I’ve been working on not taking it personally, too.

  13. Your reflections on your marriage are beautiful and thought provoking, even if you’re describing something confusing and painful.

    Thanks for sharing.

  14. Sybil Law says:

    And that’s all you can do… the rest is up to him.
    Bravo for trying – and using what you’ve learned!!

  15. SuvvyGirl says:

    There are so many people that do the “nothing” thing but I think men are the worst about it. My husband does that to me and it drives me crazy. But his nothing is more like “it’s something, but I’m going to say nothing because you should already miraculously know what it is”. But I like your approach to this, maybe I will try it and see if I make any headway with it. Hang in there!

  16. Darla says:

    Hi Britt! Thinking of you. I’m so glad you are stepping into the “so not easy” zone.

  17. Nanna says:

    Wow. You have grown so much, peanut, it’s amazing to watch and read and see.

  18. Hilly says:

    It’s so hard not to press…so very very hard. We are fixers by nature and well, I’m so very proud of you that you can sit without anger and do this. :)

  19. Poppy says:

    I say “nothing” sometimes, or “I don’t want to talk about it” other times.

    Sometimes people have stuff on their minds they really cannot share in any healthy way.

    Last weekend I was pushed to share and I started screaming my head off and accidentally clocked Dawg in his bad shoulder without even knowing what I was doing.

    I liked it better when my mouth was closed, but he definitely liked it better that I stopped holding back what was on my mind.

    I see both sides.

  20. Lisa says:

    I’m guilty of using the “nothing” line with my husband. It is sometimes easier to say “nothing” than to go into the “something” that is bothering me. Thank you for sharing this post.

  21. avitable says:

    You mean shaking someone like a ragdoll saying “Tell me! Tell meeeee!” doesn’t work?


  22. Mocha says:

    Silly Adam. That’s what I did and look where it got me and my marriage. Well, that and shin-kicking.

    Britt, you hang on for as long as you can. I’m jealous that I failed at doing just that.


  23. Fantastagirl says:

    I’m glad you are being patient, and trying to understand what is going on with Jared… communication is important… BUT on occasion – it really is NOTHING.

    Sometimes they are worried about their football team not making the Rose Bowl/sugar bowl or whatever bowl or playoff it is.

    Sometimes it’s the fact that someone at work is an IDIOT, and yet gets the bosses praise, when he did the work, not the idiot.

    Sometimes it’s the fact that the gal at McDonalds put onions on his burger, when he ordered without.

    Sometimes its the the fact that the elastic is shot in their underwear and they had a wedgie all day.

    So sometimes it is “Nothing”…

  24. i’ve always been in the communication is everything camp. thanks for the reminder that i can communicate my desire to help and my concern, but in the end i have to let it go and just be ready when they are.

    love to you both.

  25. lceel says:

    Thank you, Britt. You’ve just shown me something I didn’t even realize I was doing. I hope he appreciates you. I know I do.

  26. Grumble Girl says:

    Good for you… coming around takes the time it takes and everyone is different. Le sigh. I know. But, good for you…

  27. Dawn says:

    I think that sometimes, for some people, “nothing” is a reflex answer. Like saying “fine” when someone asks how you are, even if you’re not “fine.”

    Sometimes I say “nothing” when I think that whatever is bugging me will be resolved if I just let it sit in my head for half an hour, at which time it becomes (really) nothing. And, had I said what was bugging me at that moment, it would have escalated into a fight… rather than the nothing it ended up being.


    Happy 2010, by the way. I hope this year gives you everything you hope and wish for.

  28. Kris says:

    I’m proud of you, Britt. It takes a lot to be able to step back and not make it about what you feel when he does that. (All men do it, btw…)

    I’m still trying to get over that hurdle. I’ve been working on saying, “Clearly it’s not nothing…but if you won’t talk about it with me, I can’t try to help.” Then I walk away because I have to – or the hurt shows. It’s just one of those in betweenie steps. So you’re ahead of the game, hon. And that’s a good thing.

  29. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the idea of meeting yourself and others right where they are, sitting in that space, and not fixing it. Such a tricky, scary thing to do–to not use the escape hatches and just be there.

    Sounds like you’re getting this message too. I think it’s the only thing that really works, even if it scares the shit out of us.

  30. Bre says:

    Devin and Emma are two very lucky young people to have not one but *two* parents with perseverance to grow and heal and re-learn behaviors and un-learn others.
    I admire you both.

  31. Well, here I’m the guy and I suffer at times from the “nothings” coming from my girlfriend. It makes me angry because, as you pointed out with different words: I feel not been taken seriously, even rejected.

    However, I have to admit that getting something about those “nothings” may also be an attempt to control – and I’m damn good at this…

    So what I do is, I ask that if she doesn’t want to talk about it, I have the right to get the appropriate information (like “I don’t want to talk about it right now”) and not a code (like “nothing”). I am not living with someone to decipher codes; I believe we should be communicating in a respectful way.

    All the best for 2010!

  32. Becca says:

    Keep on Swimming! Happy New Year!! :)

  33. I love the way you still affirm him showing the love that you have for him…you are amazing, and the way you care for your marriage is inspiring…

  34. Tonz says:

    You are amazing! I’m so very impressed. It is sooo hard to break out of old habits and learn. I struggle with this every day.

    And Happy New Year!!

  35. Stella says:

    You have an amazing way with words! You really can write the feelings that each of us has experienced on numerous occasions. Thank you.

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