By Steven Lake
This is a meltdown story. It is a story about me, my wife, and what happened in early Spring. It was not a dark and stormy night. The opposite really. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were on a mini-vacation. We had just bought a condo and were visiting it every month or so and slowly buying furniture and enjoying the peace and tranquility of small town living. The community had a couple of marinas and I was interested in buying a sailboat.
I had been talking about this for some time and I asked my wife to come with me to the local marina and look at boats. She said yes. So off we go for a ten minute drive on a warm sunshine filled day. We park the car and walk out onto the docks casually looking at sailboats. I see one for sale. I take a bunch of pictures and then we have lunch in a restaurant overlooking the marina.
So far, we are having a relaxed and enjoyable day. After lunch we drive back to our home and settle in. I immediately look at the photos on my phone and pull up the phone number of the boat we saw for sale. I contact the owner, find out about the boat and the asking price. We arrange to meet the next day so that I can see the interior and check out the motors, sails, and such.
Then it happened. As soon as I put down the phone my wife goes ballistic. She can’t believe I am seriously thinking of buying a sailboat especially after finally buying a place (we had been out of the real estate market for twelve years). I am gobsmacked by the scale of her reaction. My wife isn’t easily riled, but this has sent her over the edge into meltdown territory. What was happening?
It was like I had already made up my mind about it. Hell, I hadn’t even seen the interior. Yes, I was excited at how it looked and very excited about the price (who knew used sailboats could be so cheap). Yes, buying a sailboat is on my bucket list and I was open and figured we could afford it if we wanted.
I think my wife knew my penchant for making quick decisions once my mind was set on a goal. Whatever her thinking, she launched into a major tirade on the impossibility and irresponsibility for my even considering getting a boat at this time. The vocal level was high and the emotional intensity higher.
How did I handle it? For some reason it wasn’t hard. I suppose because I hadn’t actually decided to buy the boat (and I wouldn’t have without her agreeing), and I didn’t feel defensive. Her outburst of anger just didn’t seem to match the circumstances and this helped me realize it probably wasn’t about me or the boat.
I was able to stay calm even though my wife was in distress. And this is important. I realized she wasn’t just trying to control my behavior, there was something much bigger at play. No matter how much I tried to explain my position — I’m just looking, we can afford it, I am not committed one way or the other — she was not calming down. In fact, it was getting worse.
This is when I went into another level of engagement. I stopped trying to convince her of where I was at with the sailboat and buying it. I acknowledged that I could see how upset this was making her and asked, “What are you afraid of.”
Fortunately, this made her pause and think for a second. It wasn’t whether we could afford it or not, the real issue was that she didn’t want us to take on another debt and increase our stress levels. Hey, I don’t want to increase our stress either.
We had now found an area of commonality and we started talking about stress and what would happen monetarily if we bought the boat. Yes we could buy it but there would also be moorage fees ($200 per month) and maintenance costs.
Furthermore, as we were only up once a month, the boat would be mostly unused until we moved there permanently. Was that a good use of our money?
My wife said it was not a matter of my having a boat, she was fine with that. Her reaction came up from a deep place of loss of control and being stuck in a financial place that, for her, would feel like a lot of stress.
That I could hear. Her reaffirming my desire for a sailboat and even wanting me to have one, just not yet, freed me to to state that I wouldn’t buy one until we could purchase a boat without any added stress.
This made the purchase contingent on our finances, not a timeline. If I won the lottery tomorrow, no problem, I could buy the boat immediately.
Finally, there was the debriefing. This was one of the biggest meltdowns she had ever had. Oh, we have had fights as big as this before, but this was different. I was not fighting or triggered or defensive. It was clear to me that something had triggered her and it was not just my excitement about the possibility of buying a sailboat.
Debriefing allowed us the time to re-connect and show our caring for one another after such intense emotions. It reminded us how quickly seemingly innocuous events can set off profound emotional reactions.
The next day I went to see the owner and look at the boat. I came home with a smile on my face and said I hadn’t bought it.
Now, whenever we see a sailboat we joke about buying one, the fun we will have on the water, and the “Great Meltdown.”
Photo: By Author