Learning When to Push and When to Bite My Tongue

Even though yesterday was far from my normal routine, it was an enjoyable, empowering day. Ben and I got a lot accomplished, each mostly focusing on our own projects, but together, by nightfall, we had a lot to show for the day. That’s always a gratifying feeling.

The day began with yet another frustration en route to retiling the bathroom. This has definitely been one of those projects that looks doable beforehand, if a bit if a stretch in technical abilities, but that rapidly escalates into a much bigger, and more challenging, project. We’ve both struggled at staying calm and hopeful and have considered professional takeover numerous times. The subflooring wasn’t in great shape, which was a major blow to my confidence in my ability to take care of the project myself, without needing to find some nonexistent significant funds to hire contractors to execute the work. Ultimately, I was able to bleach and scrub the flooring very well. Eventually, we’d like to have all of the subflooring and bathroom fixtures replaced (and the tiling disaster), but the deep clean was enough to push this off for some time.

The main issue was finding suitable replacement tile for all the ones that were cracked. This was an immensely frustrating step that neither of us envisioned being as difficult. The range of available ceramic or porcelain floor tiles, especially those available in stores, is pathetically limited. It makes replicating what you have or matching it well a complete pipe dream. There have been quite a few hours sucked into browsing online and in person for suitable tiles. Nothing fit right or looked good with what we had. We settled for the most acceptable option we could find, though each tile needed to be cut at home with the cutter Ben purchased.

I did not feel comfortable or competent at that step, so I delegated it to Ben, though the rest of the project has been entirely my responsibility. Unfortunately, cutting the tiles cleanly and to the exact sizes we needed proved to be far more difficult than was described to us in the store and via online video tutorials. Ben had tried to cut a good number of the ones he purchased, but they all kept breaking incorrectly or failing to snap along the scored line. He quickly amassed a useless pile of oddly-shaped chunks of tile. Rightfully so, he became so frustrated with the process that he warned me not to mention the tiles and that he’d given up. He conceded that he’d go to the distant hardware store and purchase the ugly tiles I found, which did not need to be cut.

I tried to covertly investigate his work, trying to eye the broken pile stealthfully so that he would become angered that I was forcing the issue and getting involved when he’d reach his frustration limit. After casually observing his discarded work in the form of junked tiles, I faced an inner dilemma. I noticed an engineering principle that was being ignored while using the tool cutting tool. I was confident that my observation could yield a much more successful tile cutting process, but I wanted to respect the boundary Ben set in stating I was not to bring up the tiles because he had had enough and was done with it. I’ve been guilty of pushing issues when he has made a blanket statement he doesn’t want to talk about something. Honestly, that itself really triggers me to feel frustrated and upset. It makes my brain jump into overdrive, perseverating on the issue at hand and anxiously catastrophizing worst case scenarios. Needless to say, even though I always try my hardest to bite my tongue and respect his need to drop an issue even when doing so totally denies my need to talk about it, sometimes I do accidentally slip and bring it up and it’s always a disaster. It’s like stoking a major explosion. His temper inevitably flares like a caustic volcano. While I don’t blame him, it’s terribly upsetting and makes me feel like a misbehaved and punished child. These few times I’ve pushed his buttons and forced an extension of a conversation he’s refused to participate in, the fiery, angered outcome is punishment enough to vow to try my absolute hardest to never do that again.

And thus, we arrive at the headspace I was in yesterday, fearful of voicing my suggestion despite my confidence in its efficacy. However, I decided it was worth the risk at angering him. Fortunately, he received my advice with an open mind and the correct understanding that ultimately, I was just trying to save him time, money, and effort having to go buy more tiles elsewhere and start all over. I rehearsed how I was going to respectfully communicate the suggestion in a non-threatening, supportive rather than critical way, to convey that I appreciated his hard work trying to cut the tiles and his need to be done with it, but that I think it was the tool itself–not his skill in using it–that might need an adjustment. Above all, I did my best to listen to my “tone” (a factor of communication neurotypical people seem obsessed with interpreting and analyzing that yet completely evades me) and make it as soothing and respectful as possible, adding words that reminded him we are on the same team and I was impressed and grateful for his efforts. It worked and Ben was receptive and assuaged my concerns that he was going to blow up at my provocation of the subject.

In the end, my advice worked and Ben’s superior skills with tools and his esteemed craftsmanship resulted in a full stack of tiles sized to what I needed. I harnessed the hidden ability in me to be meticulous and careful when necessary and lay all the tiles with mortar as precisely and aesthetically-pleasing as I could. It took quite a long time and the smell was far from pleasant, but I was really proud with the outcome. The mortar needs to cure for a full day before I can grout the seams, after which I’ll seal them to waterproof the application, so the project is far from done. That said, I believe the hardest stages are behind us and my confidence in creating a functional floor for a few years (until we can afford a professional redo) has risen substantially.

While I worked on laying the tiles, Ben took a full car-load of junk to the dump. In the afternoon, we both did yard projects and errands. We built in time in the afternoon to relax and catch up on TV shows we enjoy and I had to finish a work assignment as well. Overall, the day was a nice balance of productivity and relaxation. It was the type of day where we both went to bed feeling proud and satisfied with our accomplishments. I’m hoping that I can execute the grouting stage of the floor as successfully today as the tile work yesterday. It’s empowering to make progress on this long-standing bathroom project and feel competent in my ability to do so.

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