The private pilot is jolly—like an Irishman at a pub. He enters the airport, hand extended, eager to embark on our journey together and making jokes as he greets our girls. We all pile into our tiny, privileged private aircraft, our faces touched with the telltale signs of a week of the wind and sun on the boat. The girls tease one another until one takes it the wrong way. I reprimand them to stop kicking one another’s seats. I ask for peace—and redirect them to the turquoise sea beneath them and the islands fading from sight as we enter fluffy clouds. I am annoyed at their lack of decorum for the beautiful moment we are experiencing together but they are tweens, so I give them a free pass for now.
My husband sits by the seat next to mine per usual. He slides his hand between my knees and winks at me. We can’t hear one another—ears full from the pressure as we ascend rapidly into the skies over Virgin Gorda. Everything from here on would be by feel—not words. Even after we land, it sometimes lingers—and we at once know just a smidgen what it must be like to be deaf.
He leans in, chattering about our next upcoming travel together for a seminar and I mange to understand the gist of his topic. I bring up my calendar on my iPhone and wince at the overlap of commitments. He immediately reads my face and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Too bad, we’re committed.” I stare at my calendar trying to mentally navigate how I will make it all work for me and kids and childcare…who will take one to karate and the other to play practice? It’s really not a big deal, but my face is painting a different picture, I guess, and my husband types… What’s the problem? Why are you angry? I mouth back, “Nothing.” He banters with me like they don in tennis matches sometimes…one of our strong suits (or weak suits depending on how you see it). He often overanalyzes my facial expressions and pegs my mood, my reaction, and my feelings totally wrong—like a translator translating in French to a Spanish-speaking client.
This gets me thinking about how often we misread one another as couples—going on facial cues and body language and somehow losing the reality in translation. My time conducting therapy with couples solidifies my need to blog about this very topic, as oftentimes this is the main reason why couples have issues revolving around their misreading. Couples frequently misread one another. Often, we translate the facial expressions inaccurately, predicting a storm where there is actually abundant sunlight, spawning an argument where there shouldn’t be one.
So possibly, to shed light where there often is none, I propose we as couples check in. Much like you check into a restaurant on Facebook—check in with your partner. Ask before reacting. Mirror back to your partner what you are seeing and ask if it is indeed accurate. I’m certain that many fights and heartaches could be avoided this way. Nine times out of ten, partners misread their partners based on their own internal dialogue and insecurities, fears, etc. I like to call it Hector Projector. Projection is placing or injecting your own feelings and thoughts onto a situation. It really is the root of all evil. It clouds reality and muddies the waters of communication for many relationships.
So back to the pilot. We wait in line at TSA together. My family is ahead of me so it is just he and I. I ask him how long he’s been a pilot. “Upwards of twenty years,” he proudly responds. “It was a very smooth landing,” I remark. “And now I know why.” “And you still seem to love it?” I question. “You seem happy and content.” His eyes suddenly morph. He looks away and gazes blankly into the airport crowd and the jolly Irishman fades away. “ I miss my wife. She was my soul and I messed that up. Flying is the only shred of happiness I still can claim,” he says. I stand in silence—surprised at the way he had laid himself out to me. I sigh almost apologetically and thank him for the flight. “You had me fooled with your smile,” I say. He responds, “Sometimes, the smile lies.” My family, now at immigration, is moving towards us and thanking him. We all shook hands and parted. I was last to shake his hand and it lingered a brief moment as I locked eyes with his as if to acknowledge and thank him for his candidness. I think of how much can be lost when we fail to communicate properly.
Wow. So much is often lost in translation. Sometimes, the smile lies.