Dear Carolyn: My wife and I are best friends. She is very smart, and she has a much quicker ability to process information. One of our favorite pastimes is just sitting and talking about the world around us.
Since we got together, she has occasionally interrupted me while I’m talking to guess what I am about to say, and she especially does it when she thinks I’m talking too slowly. However, in the past year, she has ratcheted up this habit to the point that it is becoming unbearable. A challenge is that I am a slow talker — not cartoonishly slow, just not as fast as her, so she is always wanting to speed up the conversation.
She tells me that she does it out of habit, and that it is a way she shows she is engaged with the conversation. I call her out on it, and she takes it personally and tells me I am in the wrong for correcting her because she says I knew who I married. She gets angry, and then she doesn’t want to talk to me, which to me is worse than being interrupted.
Am I the problem? Should I just let it go and accept that I’m not going to finish my sentences for the rest of my life? It seems kind of petty, but I feel like my voice is being stolen from me.
— Stumped for Words
Stumped for Words: It is being stolen — that’s an absolutely valid, not at all “petty” complaint.
It is also valid to want your partner to hear you out when you ask for a change to the way you’re treated. Such a change isn’t always doable, or appropriate, or wise, or whatever — all of which are open to mature discussion — but it is always possible for your partner to grant you your due audience, at least. It’s a matter of respect for you specifically and the marriage generally.
Instead she lashed out at being “correct[ed],” which ignores your feelings completely and trains the spotlight on hers. That you knew who you married doesn’t inoculate her against error or erase your right to evolve or grow weary.
If you hadn’t depicted such a loving relationship, I’d say her defensiveness was your real marital problem. And it might still become one that her attention defaults to satisfying her own needs vs. balancing them with yours. Is her struggle with self-regulation, or is it self-absorption, a need to show off how quick she is?
For now, though, you might accomplish more if you strike that balance yourself in addressing the interruptions. Where now you “call her out,” merely hold your conversational ground instead: Wait a beat after she finishes your sentence, then finish it your way. Even if she guessed exactly right. This keeps you focused, correctly, more on your voice than hers.
It’s a method you can use for life, in your marriage and beyond.
One more thought. Your wife’s behavior brought to mind Edward Hallowell’s description of the ADHD brain: Ferrari engine, bicycle brakes. The description doesn’t need a diagnosis to fit. And if you’re able to think “bad brakes” and not take them personally, then you might effectively preempt the offense on your own.
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