Road trip relationship crisis
June 21, 2019 10:40 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I fought on a road trip and I blew up at her. I feel horrible and in doubt about our relationship, and am trying to sort out what to do next.

We're both fresh out of college and have been together for a couple years. Our relationship has always been really strong and I don't think we've had any serious issues, red flags, or major fights or anything. We decided to go on a road trip together while we're both free over the summer, and it's really not going well.

We've fought a little bit about her talking to me while I'm driving in a way that feels kind of belittling or condescending. Like she'll take hesitation or looking around on my part as a sign that I'm going to do something stupid or reckless. I am a very responsible and competent person, including behind the wheel, and have never done anything that would be a legitimate cause for concern. Today this came up again while we were driving, we argued briefly, and in the heat of the moment I pounded the steering wheel and cursed at her. This was obviously not the right way to handle that situation, and I feel terrible. It made her feel really scared and generally awful. She burst into tears and asked me to leave, so we could split up and cool down. Now we've talked about it and she wants to cancel our trip and go home.

I don't know what to do. Our relationship has otherwise been really good, but part of me feels like maybe this is a big sign that we don't work and should break up. I feel really guilty and embarrassed for blowing up like that, and have told her so and apologized. I don't think I've ever lost my temper at someone like this, and I know there's nothing excusable or acceptable about it, and will need to do a lot of thinking (and talking to someone like a therapist) about how to make sure I don't do it again. At the same time I still feel really upset and offended at the way she was talking to me. I also just feel enormous embarrassment and shame that we're going to cancel our trip and go home because of this. I don't know how I can live down that I ruined a nice trip we were on - we'll always have that awful memory, and I'll always feel guilty about it. I feel like normal, healthy relationships don't have this kind of issue, and like maybe if we just call it and walk away, I can move on and take this lesson to heart without carrying all the guilt and embarrassment. At the same time, since our relationship is otherwise fine, it feels like a huge overreaction.

Basically, I just don't know what to do about our relationship. I guess I have to decide what to do about our trip today. I thought about maybe just ending things, taking her to the airport and buying her a ticket home, and taking the rest of the trip to just decompress. But again, this equally seems like a bad decision to me. I am so lost. If someone with more life experience could please help me figure out what the best thing to do would be, I would be really grateful. Thank you.
posted by myitkyina to Human Relations (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd urge you not to take 100% of the blame for this. What your partner was doing was clearly shitty before you blew up, and the fact that you blew up doesn't cancel that out. If you want to save your relationship you can't ignore those very real problems.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:46 AM on June 21, 2019 [21 favorites]

This is a great opportunity to learn how to deal with conflict in an adult relationship. She has some anxiety, you got annoyed and blew up. Neither of those are good things, but neither of these are dealbreakers. I think this is a great opportunity to talk things through. You can tell her how her behaviors made you feel, she can talk about your behaviors made her feel, and you can both work together toward a solution. A roadtrip is definitely a test on a young relationship when you are spending a lot of close time together without a way to diffuse or ignore any situations that come up, but if you can get through it, it will make your relationship stronger. Good luck!
posted by greta simone at 10:52 AM on June 21, 2019 [32 favorites]

It sounds like I am similar to your girlfriend. I am someone who is a very nervous passenger and am not always 100% successful in my attempts to curb my "OMG PEDESTRIAN!" and "Stop sign. STOP SIGN!" reactions. It isn't that I don't trust their driving, it isn't about THEM specifically. I just have had enough scary near misses as a passenger that I am wary of ALL drivers. I am also someone who finds any sort of aggression or anger or anything in a car super triggering because I am "trapped" in there. This is the worst possible combo because my behaviour can fairly easily create frustration and anger in the driver, plus I stress them out more which makes them less safe, etc etc etc. I am working on being a more passive passenger, but it is seriously difficult to deprogram from that.

Things to consider:
- does she does the condescending thing in any other situations?
- does she behave similarly with other drivers, or just you?
- has she ever been involved in a car accident, or had some other scary/upsetting situation occur in a car?
- have you ever had a car accident that she is aware of?

But in summary, I doubt that this is 100% your fault. Did you react the best? Nope. But neither is she is sounds like. Have the conversation to better understand why she is behaving this way, and discuss other ways for her to deal with her car anxiety, as well as your frustration when she (inevitably) slips up again.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:54 AM on June 21, 2019 [20 favorites]

It's hard to be calm when someone is nagging about your driving. My sister makes me crazy, she gasps when we go round a corner, and winces if she thinks we're too close, holds on tight if passing. Your girlfriend is unreasonable and if she can't get over trying to control your every move, you may be better off apart.
Does she bring out the worst in you in other ways?
posted by Enid Lareg at 10:55 AM on June 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

You are never going to have a relationship without fuckups. Ever. I think maybe you can both look at how the tension built up. Driving can be stressful and no one should nit pick the driver. It’s just not safe. A thought that came up about the severity of your reaction may be from other issues you had in your life, reacting to some childhood trauma, etc. It sounds like you scared yourself as well.

I travel fulltime, and it’s actually a running joke in campgrounds and RV parks that most divorces happen while trying to set up/back into a spot.

This doesn’t sound like fun, but the strength of a relationship is talking through and moving past things like this. Can you guys get a nice room for the night, chill, and then talk when you both feel better?
posted by MountainDaisy at 10:58 AM on June 21, 2019 [15 favorites]

First, I think these moments are a cross-road for your relationship - either it will break you in short term or it will give you chance to learn how to talk about problems and repair them in a way that will make your relationship so much stronger than it was before or sweep under the rug, pretend everything is fine until the next time and the next time until it gets so bad you can't pretend any more. Personally, either of the first two are so much better than the third - please don't pretend it didn't happen.

Second, this is not just your problem or your fault - it is also a relationship problem - something that happens in the space between the two of you that needs attention, not blame. Some people above suggested the way that her insecurity might have led her to behave in ways that triggered you. So, you both need to figure out what happened.

But before you do that, it is possible that you really, really scared your girlfriend. Being trapped in a car with someone who is angry in ways that are totally unexpected can be terrifying. She feel betrayed - who is this person that I never knew existed inside of the many I love? This is an emotional response - you know that you are still you and this was just a blip but her emotional system might be having trouble processing that. (In other words, not anyone's fault but still a problem for the relationship)

If this is true, she is going to need some time to calm down and reconnect to the you that she knows and cares about. How do that depends on both your girlfriend and the logistics of the trip. Maybe flowers and soft loving sex might help her reconnect. Or maybe the idea of intimacy with person who turned into a stranger before her eyes would be awful and she needs space to calm down. Maybe you can change your trip and just stop where you are for a night or a day or two to regroup without having to drive together. Or maybe going home will give you more space. The focus is not about how awful you are for spoiling the trip, but being respectful of what you both need to get your feet steady underneath yourselves so you can.
posted by metahawk at 11:02 AM on June 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Couples have conflict. Especially healthy relationships because bottling it into resentment is not healthy. If every relationship ended the first time someone raised their voice, I do not think more than a handful of people in the entire world would be married. This is a good time to talk about what conflict means to you and how you'll address it in the future.

If people think healthy couples never have disagreements, they are wrong.

First, there's no winner in a healthy conflict. The goal is to understand each other, even if you don't agree. There are problems in every relationship that will NEVER be fully decided because people. are. different. That's okay. If you avoid the conflict, you will create emotional distance between the two of you. Conflict is an opportunity to learn more about your partner, this will bring you closer together in the end. I can fully speak to this from experience.

Here are some opened ended questions you two can ask each other, I mostly stole these from the new Gottman book on relationships which is FANTASTIC in my opinion:
What was conflict like in your family growing up?
How do you feel about anger and how was it expressed as you grew up?
How can I support you when you're feeling angry?
How do you like to make up after a disagreement?
What do you now understand about me that you didn't before this conversation?

About this specific issue:
Is there a story behind why this is important to you or did this touch a nerve from your past?
Is there a deeper meaning or goal behind why this is important?

I can show you a specific time this happened in my relationship if that would help. It was VERY MUCH both of us reacting to previous traumas and going past each other. When we discussed, we become so much closer.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:03 AM on June 21, 2019 [20 favorites]

I feel like normal, healthy relationships don't have this kind of issue, and like maybe if we just call it and walk away, I can move on and take this lesson to heart without carrying all the guilt and embarrassment. At the same time, since our relationship is otherwise fine, it feels like a huge overreaction.

People in normal, healthy relationships have arguments, even huge fights -- just not routinely. People in normal, healthy relationships also know how to forgive one another and/or resolve their disagreements. Frankly it feels like your girlfriend is being dramatic by insisting you cancel your trip and go home, but maybe she's just overreacting as you suggest.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:05 AM on June 21, 2019 [20 favorites]

It's hard to be calm when someone is nagging about your driving

it feels like your girlfriend is being dramatic by insisting you cancel your trip and go home, but maybe she's just overreacting

How about we don’t use sexist language to describe the girlfriend’s behavior? Her feelings are not wrong and they aren’t coming out of nowhere even if it seems that way.

If you don’t want to deal with this, you can just break up. One thing I’ve learned in my 30s is that it’s ok to break up with anyone at anytime for any reason. You are not obligated to try to work it out or talk through it with her if you don’t want to. Honestly I think the fact that your gut seems to be telling you this is a bad sign is something you should listen to.
posted by a strong female character at 11:08 AM on June 21, 2019 [23 favorites]

Are you at a place where you can physically pause for a day or even two? Get out of the car and into open spaces and talk through things. Ask how you can help her with her passenger anxiety and consider taking shorter legs or listening to a book on tape so that driving isn’t stressing her out so much. Rejigger your approach to the trip and take it easier. Explore where you are currently, eat some food, have some real rest.

Remember HALT before doing anything drastic. If you are Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely or Tired, address that first. Road trips can really create all those things in a hurry. Eat some food that makes you feel good and grounded. Lay off the caffeine. Spend some time moving your bodies.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:09 AM on June 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also, if she finds being a passenger stressful, do more sharing of the driving. Not angrily or huffily, but so she doesn’t feel like she has no control in the situation. Especially now that you’ve blown up.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:10 AM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

For everyone's safety, your girlfriend needs to not pick fights with you while you're driving. She can ask you to pull over and then you can talk about it. I suspect that part of the issue is that you cannot give her your full attention while also driving a car, and that's leading to poor outcomes.

Does she drive? Is she sharing the driving on this trip? Thinking / talking about that and how it's affecting you both could be helpful.
posted by momus_window at 11:10 AM on June 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

This sounds pretty similar to some things my current partner and I dealt with early in our relationship. Two things helped: she works on her anxiety and I work on my emotional literacy. Both involved some therapy on both our parts, though not couple's therapy. I also did some work with DBT that helped me a lot with emotional response baggage I was dragging around from childhood stuff and I've been working on understanding my emotions and sorting out responses that are situationally appropriate.

If the two of you both want to work through this and continue your relationship, you both need to own your blame and work individually on the parts that are causing tension/friction and bring a better self to the relationship.

Which isn't to say you won't fight or have disagreements, but this will help you have healthier disagreements and work through issues.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:14 AM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've been with my husband for twenty-five years and our relationship is the foundation of my life, completely good by any measure - and I will tell you, one of us criticizing the other's driving will more predictably set off a fight than any other single thing (except maybe trying to put up a tent). Just yesterday, in fact, he had to drive me to work and made some questionable decisions and we got mad at each other, but you know - after 25 years, you just learn to let it go and move on. It's really, really normal to have fights in stressful situations.

Right now it seems like the problem is that you both need to figure out how to move on from it. Cancelling the trip would be a mistake, in my opinion - this is a key moment you can both learn from. Figuring out how to recover from a disagreement is a crucial necessity in any real long-term relationship. I know that even if you know this, it may be hard to convince her in this moment - but maybe you can frame it this way: that you love each other, you want to be together, you don't want to ruin something you've been looking forward to for a long time, and you want to use this as an opportunity to figure out how to better communicate.

Also, you know, we have a general rule that nobody says a word about the other person's driving. Sometimes it's hard. But it's always better to just quietly close your eyes. Hopefully you can impress this upon her.
posted by something something at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2019 [11 favorites]

I would really, really not jump to "We should maybe end our relationship"! Conflicts, especially when they are larger and not a common occurrence in your relationship, can be really scary. Expressions of anger like shouting, swearing, and banging things physically can especially be really scary. It's normal to both feel terrible and I agree with Metahawk that your girlfriend probably feels rather betrayed and confused at the moment. But as others are pointing out, conflict is normal in relationships and being able to navigate it in healthy ways is crucial to any relationship you will have in the future, not just this one. This is also an important experience for you, so that you can express your frustration differently next time (and I agree that your girlfriend's behaviour wasn't great in this situation either).

My advice is to ask your girlfriend to chat about what happened as soon as she feels safe to do so, and try to move on from the negative feelings as soon as possible. Apologise for the way you expressed your frustration and talk about how you were both feeling and could have expressed yourselves differently. You should be able to salvage this trip and work through this and frankly I think it's important that you try to do so, since this is a healthy relationship skill. Best of luck working things out with her, and try to think of this as what it is- a fuck up but also a learning experience for both of you.
posted by DTMFA at 11:17 AM on June 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is this the first trip you've taken together? Some people simply don't travel well together no matter how close they are or how long they've known each other. My stepmom and a very dear friend of hers once had a massive fight while on vacation together in NYC and ditched each other for the remainder of the trip, reconvening only long enough to endure an icily silent plane ride home together. They are still dear friends today, once they had some time to cool off, and now that memory is just a blip. I don't think this necessarily spells doom for your entire relationship.

I too am a very anxious passenger in cars and it sounds like your girlfriend might be as well. This stuff doesn't come from nowhere, I've been in a lot of car accidents so maybe you can unpack what's driving (har har) that for her. I try very hard to keep it under control but it's extremely difficult for me. it drove my husband crazy because he too was a very safe and competent driver and had never had an accident, but that didn't matter to my brain, there were too many other possible factors at play. Would she be better off doing the driving?

At the same time, swearing at me and pounding the steering wheel would have me throwing open the car door and exiting a moving vehicle, that's relationship dealbreaker-level stuff for me. (I grew up with a father who had a ton of physical anger issues and I cannot have behavior like that around me anymore, ever).

I really like the suggestions to pause the trip for a day or two and just take it easy. Soak in a hot tub, go to a diner and get some pie and coffee, go see a movie, and just let the stress subside for a bit. Maybe then you'll be in a better headspace not just to talk about it, but to strategize some actual solutions for points of friction thus far (split up the driving more, verbalize when you're hesitating or checking for directions, code word for if she needs to dial back the language, whatever).
posted by anderjen at 11:17 AM on June 21, 2019 [13 favorites]

What to do:

- Pause the trip. Get separate hotel rooms in the same hotel, take 24+ hours to calm down. During that time enjoy yourself alone, take baths, swim in the pool, see the sights alone where you are.

- At the end of that time, if you are feeling like you want to stay together, tell your girlfriend you want to stay together and work this out. How is she feeling? How are you feeling?

- If that conversation goes awfully, yeah, put one of you on a flight and the other proceeds as desired with the car/trip, and you meet up again when you get back.

- Sometime read up on anger and better ways to manage it - Harriet Lerner has a good book on it. But don't read it on a road trip!

- If your worst memory of life is this one (had a bad fight on a road trip, may or may not have resulted in the end of a relationship), you're doing okay. I hope that doesn't sound condescending, it's just that you asked for someone with more life advice. I have had one bad road trip argument in a relationship that ended badly several months later's doesn't rate on my top ten bad memories at all! That doesn't mean it doesn't fucking hurt. Just...don't get into that Ruined Forever headspace, ok? If your relationship does not survive this, it was not solid enough anyway.

Road trip fights are pretty common.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:24 AM on June 21, 2019 [12 favorites]

Don't break up over just this single incident.

If you two fall into a repeating pattern of extremely toxic arguments over driving, then consider breaking up.

For now, cool off, make up, try to learn something from this.
posted by doctor tough love at 11:35 AM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

but part of me feels like maybe this is a big sign that we don't work and should break up

Every future relationship you have will include moments where your partner does something aggravating, condescending, inexplicable, or otherwise displeasing to you to some degree, and in none of those future scenarios will banging the steering wheel and cursing her out while you're driving be a safe or appropriate response, even if she is 100% completely in the wrong. So this is not reading to me as a "we're just not compatible" problem, but rather as an anger management issue that you, as a young dude (fresh out of college, right), need to get a handle on, as do many dudes of your age cohort, before it gets set in your ways.

For now, apologize profusely and without equivocation, give her some time and space to decide what she wants to do with the rest of the trip, and proceed accordingly. When you get home, look into resources (either with a therapist or self-directed, whatever's gonna work for you) to help you manage angry emotions without verbal or physical violence.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:49 AM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

My sympathies. My husband and I are closing in on our 25th year together. I remember multiple instances of us driving somewhere that ended up in me crying and him yelling. Despite the fact that I am not a cryer and he is not a yeller.

Driving together is the worst. Be glad that GPS exists these days and you don‘t have to suffer through all the „you are reading the map wrong“ arguments that we had.

All this to say that maybe you guys are not suited to each other - but this is not the proof of that.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:50 AM on June 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

I would not cancel the trip and go home together- that seems like the worst of all worlds. (But i'm sort of notoriously single so...). I assumed upon reading this that she intended to leave and you would keep going. You will need time to think and re-group so it seems either you both pause wherever you are and try to work this out or she leaves and you keep going. I think if you just cancel and go home together disappointed then the break up does seem inevitable. Somehow there needs to be time and space to work it out. I think you should stay on the trip and encourage her to stay also. If not, just stay on your own so you both have time to think about where you want to go (literally and figuratively!) from here.
posted by bquarters at 11:53 AM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The more remarkable thing would be that you went on a road trip with an SO and did not have a fight. Travel is stressful and anxious, even when it's for fun, and people tend to get a little raw.

For you, it sounds like the comments she made pressed some buttons for you regarding competency. You might have a bit of a trigger when people suggest you're not great at something. That button was pushed, and you felt the irritation and exploded.

For her, it sounds like the visible anger was scary, and she might have a bit of a trigger around sudden outbursts.

You should have a talk about these triggers and what makes you feel scared and insecure when the other person does it. This is a normal kind of talk to have when you wade into long-term couple land and it is a good chance to start building better conflict (and defusion) skills.
posted by Miko at 11:55 AM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is the first time something like this has happened between you. It's a chance to see how you handle conflict, both individually and as a team. Try and frame it as the two of you learning more about each other and trying to work out ways to deal with stressful and tense scenarios. A road trip is a perfect tinder box for these kinds of things- and it sounds like she was dealing with her sense of stress by nit-picking and belittling, which are also as harmful in a relationship as blowing up.

I will say that that the way you describe yourself sounds a lot like my self-perception in a past relationship. We tried, but in the end I realised there was always going to be incidents where I would lose my temper and which she found incredibly upsetting and harmful. I attribute this to differences in upbringing- and while I did try my level best to improve my temper (and did manage it), the realisation that we had fundamentally different strategies with coping with stress (and that my way really genuinely hurt her, which was so awful) meant that I made the decision to end the relationship. The difference may be from your situation is that she was not provoking me or behaving badly herself. This made it easier to see this as a fundamental incompatibility which was grounds for breaking up, even though it was really painful to make that decision.

All that to say that this isn't necessarily a deal breaker at this stage. It depends on how you both can help each other grow and develop as individuals and as a couple. That might be possible, or further incidents might reveal a deep incompatibility that will never be resolved. Or, your partner might not want to even try (immediately suggesting to cancel the trip raises my suspicions that she's maybe not ready to do work on this together).
posted by Balthamos at 12:36 PM on June 21, 2019

Road trip fights are a thing. If I were your girlfriend I would also want to cancel the trip but I think that's mostly because an angry boyfriend once threw me out of a moving vehicle and it was really terrifying. Also, I'm pretty direct about hitting inanimate objects and cursing at me as two pretty hard boundaries I have, so someone I was dating who did that would know that they were really overstepping.

I like the idea of just hitting pause and staying in a hotel and chilling out, reading, eating, hot tub for a few days... And then see where you're both at and how you are both feeling.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 12:36 PM on June 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh dear. This is really stressful. I'd suggest, if she agrees to it, taking a day or two to pause and not go anywhere and just settle a bit before you make any big decisions about ending the trip. If she agrees, this is totally salvageable, but you have some big conversations to have and work to do.

This is the kind of work that needs to happen in relationships. Fighting and disagreements are okay -- they are necessary to resolve conflict -- so please don't think that conflict is a sign of a bad relationship. It's a sign that you are humans in a relationship. How you work through the conflict is really important.

Driving is pretty dangerous, really, and some folks do get a bit anxious, regardless of whether or not the person is driving well. So first, it might be helpful for you to realize her comments probably weren't as personal as they felt but likely more about her stress at being in a car.

Next, it sounds like you could both use a bit more self-awareness and ability to talk about things. She was feeling anxious about your driving; you were feeling patronized by her comments. Were you aware that you were getting frustrated and did you try to address this while you weren't driving? It sounds like you let this build up and expressed it in anger. That does happen sometimes, but it's important to try to be more aware of how you are feeling so you can express it before it gets to that point.

Also, it would have been good, if she was stressed, for her to talk about that.

As some examples of how this could have gone: a few weeks ago, my partner got a new car and I found myself super stressed while he was fiddling with the new controls. I wanted him to stop because it seemed dangerous. It was a short drive in any case. Later, while we weren't driving, I said, "Look, sometimes I get nervous when I'm riding with someone who is fiddling with controls. It's not because you're a bad driver; it's because I'm far too aware of the frequency of car crashes. So I'll try to manage my stress but it would be great if you let me mess with the radio and such while you're driving."

Similarly, you could have said, when you weren't driving, "Hey, girlfriend, sometimes the comments you make when we are driving make me feel like you think I might not be a good driver. It can be frustrating. Can we talk about that?"

I'm not offering these examples to scold you, but to give you some ideas of how you might try to start recognizing your frustrations as they are building. Avoiding conflict -- you not mentioning your growing frustrations, her running off -- doesn't work in the long term.

Right now you need to chill out and then talk. When are feeling calm, let her know you are very sorry, you were feeling frustrated by your comments, and you realize you should have said something earlier. And then see where it goes from there.

But if she wants to go home, she gets to. And try not to worry about shame or embarrassment. That should be the least of your concerns. Tend to yourself and your partner. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:41 PM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

We've fought a little bit about her talking to me while I'm driving in a way that feels kind of belittling or condescending. Like she'll take hesitation or looking around on my part as a sign that I'm going to do something stupid or reckless. I am a very responsible and competent person, including behind the wheel, and have never done anything that would be a legitimate cause for concern. Today this came up again while we were driving, we argued briefly, and in the heat of the moment I pounded the steering wheel and cursed at her.

Oh man, this sounds hellish. So I'm going to go all Al-Anon on your ass and whip out a slogan from the fellowship which I'm pretty sure AA uses as well: Feelings are not facts. You get to have your feelings, and your feelings may be evidence-based but they may also be way off the mark. It is entirely possible that your gf is in no way deliberately belittling you or being condescending. She probably just suffers from anxiety, as many of us do.

For whatever reason, I am 1000 times more calm being the driver than the passenger. I used to be fine; then I got super nervous; now I am less nervous but not fine. As a result, I tell people who are giving me a ride, if it involves a freeway and I have not been a passenger with them before, "Hey, I am a nervous passenger. I have anxiety that makes me flinch, make worried noises, gulp, stuff like that. I am confident you are a good driver so whatever you hear is not personal. It might be distracting. I try to be quiet but if I distract you let me know and I will do my best to keep it down."

Al-Anon has helped me learn to take many fewer things personally. It turns out that most of the things other people do, including people who love me, are rarely about me personally. All the times my ex talked to me in particular ways and it made me feel shitty and belittled? I left the guy but we are still friends and when we meet up he occasionally still talks that way but I now understand that in this particular case he is not commenting on me at all, it is simply the way he talks about some things. It still annoys me, but I no longer take it personally. I get that it is about him, not me.

I feel for you because you have been driving around with your annoying gf, who has probably been annoying because of her anxiety and not because of anything you personally have done only her behavior was so annoying that you lost your shit royally and actually did something that was a legitimate cause of concern to your gf, yourself, and roughly half or more of the population. That's not okay.

It happens. I, too, have lost my shit in an overly dramatic and scary to observers way and it wasn't okay when I did it, either. It is also, however, a normal human thing and it is an especially common human thing when on a trip. Unlike others here, I don't think it will be a fatal disaster if you and your gf decide to cancel the trip or one of you go home. I think it will be a fatal disaster if you don't talk about it when you are both ready to talk about it. (I had a misunderstanding once with a guy who literally would not get on the train to go back to his hotel until we had worked out every aspect of this misunderstanding at 1 am and I am incapable of doing any thinking at that hour, never mind thoughtful discussion, particularly after a major fight. Just, no.)

Do not bully yourself; do not bully her (not that I imagine you will, but she probably feels bullied right now after the whole pounding on the steering wheel and loud swearing stuff). Just have a nice calm discussion and honour her wishes and honour, to the extent possible, your own. If it is impossible to do both, honour her wishes as she was the person terrified during the Steering Wheel Affair as you might perhaps call it later while telling the story to other friends and laughing.

If your relationship survives this fight (which I hope it does because this does not need to be a deal-breaker), you will have plenty of other opportunities to go on road trips. Don't decide, without your gf, what a successful outcome will be other than "we are still talking to one another." Don't decide that it's only a successful outcome if both of you continue on the road trip or if she stops being anxious or if you see three seagulls at 3 pm or whatever. You both are young; you both have needs; you are both figuring out how that works (along with everyone else, btw).

My ex is a truly wonderful person. My marriage was great for at least 15 years. Early on, before we were married, we survived nearly capsizing a canoe in a rainstorm and getting back to a tent that was just fine until we woke up soaking in the middle of the night. We had huge fights during that camping trip because it was so stressful (he thought we were about to drown when we were in the water; I had never been canoeing before, and my inane chatter drove him crazy. He literally thought he was paddling for our very lives but did not share any part of that with me, which was not the most helpful choice).

In summary, relationships are a land of contrasts. Thanks for asking this question, OP. Here's a great long read from Captain Awkward about boundaries and needs. It is hot off the presses, and I am sharing it with everyone I can. Best of luck; I hope each of you gets to enjoy yourselves a bit every single day both on the road and off it.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:47 PM on June 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

1. Couples fight, and driving is a known issue (see examples above). You behaved poorly in the moment but it doesn't make you a bad person.
2. I have been on a road trip with an ex when we weren't getting along and it was miserable. We broke up soon after, and my only regret is not breaking up sooner and sparing me (and him) suffering through that miserable trip. Road trips and holidays where you spend one-on-one time in unfamiliar situations can really bring out the worst in relationships. On the flip side, the first time my now-husband and I traveled together was a delight.

In short, you maybe should break up and you probably should end the trip if your girlfriend wants to. But this literally just happened today so maybe both sleep on it and decide tomorrow?
posted by emd3737 at 1:06 PM on June 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Granted, I wasn't there, and it can be shocking to find out something about yourself that you don't particularly like or would find loathsome in another. But... the amount of guilt and shame you are expressing feel rather out-sized to the event and that has made far more of an impression on me that what actually happened between you and your partner.

I'm curious about what was the outcome of "We've fought a little bit about her talking to me while I'm driving in a way that feels kind of belittling or condescending. " Did you ever have discussions about this outside of the moment it was happening?
posted by sm1tten at 1:48 PM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Since you didn’t give an example of a comment she made that you found belittling, it’s hard to judge whether the things she’s saying are on a normal spectrum of passenger anxiety and you’re taking them too personally, or if they’re truly condescending.

Similarly, you aren’t specific about what you said when you cursed at her and pounded the steering wheel. This matters— if you were like “what the fuck?!!” that’s something to let blow over and discuss later. If you called her a name or told her to shut up, that’s different.

I agree that all couples fight, but hard to say if anyone’s overreacting based on the information you shared.
posted by kapers at 1:48 PM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The only things my husband and consistently, bitterly fight about are doing the dishes and driving directions. Without fail, driving is stressful and you have to communicate quickly and yet make decisive actions because duh you’re driving bad the world don’t wait for you. It’s ripe for everyone getting emotional.

Breaking up is a huge overreaction. So is her leaving the trip!

I agree this is a great way to discuss and deepen your relationship and conflict resolution skills.

So, sit down with her, from your heart apologize and start to dissect what she was thinking and feeling in the moment, how you took and assumed what she meant, and both of your previous baggage that you’re clearly bringing into this situation.

Here is where the relationship going gets good! Good luck!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:06 PM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to quietly add that if you do decide to break up, there’s nothing wrong with that. Ending a relationship is not some kind of moral failure.
posted by a strong female character at 2:15 PM on June 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you everyone for your answers. I am finding this extremely helpful and it has given me a lot of clarity about what to do next, at a time when I was really freaking out. So thank you.

For context:

After we bickered the first time it wasn't brought up afterwards, because it wasn't very serious, she promptly apologized, and we moved on. It's not like a pattern or anything - just this trip.

The blowup incident happened when we were scouting out parking. There was some weird thing where it was no-parking but there were still people there, so after deciding we couldn't park, we kept going. The light turned red so I was kind of peeking over to see if they had tickets - just out of curiosity, like, what's the deal with this - and she said something like, "[my name], you can't park there." She said it, including my name, in what I felt like was a scolding, annoyed tone. So I told her, "oh, I'm just looking". She came back with something like "we already--" and that's when I pounded the steering wheel and was like, "I'm just fucking looking!"

It just feels like... so lame, and such a defeat, to have to cancel a road trip because we couldn't handle it.
posted by myitkyina at 2:22 PM on June 21, 2019

myitkyina, thanks for the additional context. I am sorry if you need to change your plans; I know that sucks. Can you take a break and just stop driving for awhile and chill, as recommended above? Can you go to a movie together and eat popcorn and laugh in some air-conditioned movie house showing something funny?

I understand cancelling the trip feels lame. But there is a whole long list of people above, some of them ancient (I'm ancient!) who have had exactly this kind of problem. Sometimes people need to change a plan and cancel one thing in order to salvage another thing. That disastrous camping trip I went on? It was supposed to be three nights. We left after one. Canceling the rest of the trip was not a defeat. It was a salvage operation. It pretty much saved our relationship. YMMV.

You are completely entitled to feel however you feel if the trip gets canceled because your girlfriend decides she just doesn't want to do it any more or you both decide that. But that decision is only a defeat if you decide it is a defeat. Feel bad for sure, that is totally valid, but if you do cancel the trip you might want to see, just for the hell of it, if you can come up with various ways of reframing the situation that are either neutral or upbeat. There is almost never only one way to interpret a situation. Learning how to reframe situations is also a truly valuable life skill.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:40 PM on June 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

It just feels like... so lame, and such a defeat, to have to cancel a road trip because we couldn't handle it.

You both need to relax. In a few hours, probably by now, you will be much more calm. This was nothing. You will laugh about how dramatic it felt in the future which DOES NOT minimize how you feel now, but only speaks to how far you will go.

It’s okay. You’re both human and can grow from this. Conflict or having emotions is not the enemy. Respecting and loving your partner is all that matters. You both have opportunities to grow from this.

This can be a positive experience. I know you’re maybe like WHAT, THIS IS BAD, CASTLE. But trust me. Also sleep on it. Watch an episode of the office or something you both like.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:15 PM on June 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

If this were me and papa penguin, we'd just need some alone time. Constant togetherness can be grating. Blow up, separate for a few hours or a day, then forgive each other and move on with your trip.
posted by mama penguin at 4:06 AM on June 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

With the OP's clarifying statement, what happened sounds like a normal "something which happens once every three months for a married couple" incident to me. It's OK to get upset, it's OK to express anger (in a limited way) and it's not really a big deal. I know that if my S.O. gets angry with me or frustrated with a situation, it's not going to get physical and it's not going to stray in to the territory of verbal abuse. The same is true in the other direction. We trust each other, so it's not scary. I just don't understand the WASPY "never raise your voice and discuss everything dispassionately" -it seems really repressed/unhealthy to me. Having said that, I also understand that people who grew up in abusive households or had past relationship trauma might feel very differently about this. Ultimately, the two of you have to negotiate the boundaries of what's acceptable behavior in a relationship, and if you're really far apart on that, break up.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 5:35 AM on June 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree that this sounds like "something which happens once every three months for a married couple," at least in my marriage, which has now ended, and I am ever so much happier not to have anyone having little fits of rage and cursing and pounding the counters/steering wheel/whatever at me. It fucking sucks. It feels physically threatening, even if you're pretty sure the person won't actually hit you. At this point in my life, I would break up with anyone who did this to me after the first incident. I'm not saying this to make you feel worse, just to give you my perspective, which is contrary to that of anyone saying she's being dramatic or overreacting.

Life is much, much better when you're able to have the self-control to say "okay" in that moment, then, when it's safe, pull over and say "It feels demeaning to me when you talk to me like that and for some reason I find it especially hard to cope when we're in the car because I have to concentrate on driving, I can't explain everything right in the moment, we're both trapped in this tiny space, etc." and have that conversation.

(Full disclosure, I was not always a model of calm either. I used to have a temper. It was really when my ex-husband started getting super ragey that I clearly saw what useless assholery it is and I suddenly found it easy to rein it in. So, it can be done. And the sooner the better.)

For now, apologize, ask her if she wants to talk through it, and support her in whatever she decides. That's all you can do.
posted by HotToddy at 7:36 AM on June 22, 2019 [11 favorites]

My husband really needs me to believe in him, in his ability to have sound judgment, in his ability to lead us somewhere if it's his turn to lead.

He takes any questioning I have very personally because he was raised in an environment where the woman defers to the man so his father was never questioned by his mother at least not in front of him.

It actually ties into a much larger more expansive pain point for him. He doesn't like to be seen as incompetent. I hear lots of people are that way. I don't like to be seen as incompetent either, but someone pointing out a parking space or signage or the fact that the light is yellow doesn't make me feel like he thinks I'm stupid.

Relationships are great places to learn more about what triggers us and why, and the more we figure out the why through personal introspection the more we can engage as a self-aware being which in many ways makes relationship much more satisfying, if not easier sometimes (and harder other times).
posted by crunchy potato at 4:09 PM on June 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

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