The importance of the engine-off chat

The importance of the engine-off chat

16 August 2012 | 4:08 pm

Some of the most important relationship conversations take place in stationary cars.

Sing if you know the words (or gently toot the horn if you’re shy): You and your partner arrive home after dinner, or an event, or a long day flying kites – whatever. The car has been turned off, but the conversation has not. Someone is upset, their point is not being heard. They’re frustrated and fiddling with the gear stick as they detail their distress.

The front door is in sight, and history indicates it should be unlocked and walked through within a minute or two, but it won’t, because this is an engine-off chat (EOC), which is a rare and valuable thing – like a pelican smoking a cigar – and it must be treated accordingly.

It transpires that Party One is annoyed because Party Two displayed inappropriate behaviour at dinner. Or because they just found out Party Two is going away for six days and will miss a significant event. Or they are tired after a big day, and resentful they were made to go to out when they have so much work to do before their presentation at the egg carton factory in the morning. Or maybe they’re utilising superficial reasons to mask the fact they are actually deeply unhappy in the relationship. Want more. Need more. Can’t take it any more.

Party Two is listening intently, because that’s the only option in the eerie quiet of a stationary car with an angry/sad/disappointed person sitting 47cm away, really. Full attention is paid to what’s being said out of respect, but also because one cannot simply pull out one’s phone and check emails or play Ski Safari or text your mates while an EOC is in progress. And you definitely can’t just get out of the car and head inside. No, no, no.

And this is why EOCs are so valuable. You’re ‘stuck’ in a compulsory discussion bubble that is quiet, devoid of distraction, not easily escaped (without enormous escalation and terrifying consequences) and dealing with the kind of awkward, honest subject matter that doesn’t arise very often. And it all happened spontaneously! No one declared, “We need to talk” or threw a shoe at someone’s head. Organic discourse about the current state of affairs is healthy. Relationships demand big, uncomfortable discussions every now and again. They ensure things progress and evolve.

A lot of us get on a roll during an EOC, saying things that, on the phone, over email or in the comfort of a diversion-heavy restaurant, we may not. Maybe it’s the dark, or the silence; something propels us to keep going, unveiling more and more of what we feel. Some couples break up as a result of an EOC, and just as many decide to “give things a go” (figuratively and, uh, physically). It’s not surface level stuff – this is raw, real-deal relationship stuff. And it’s GOOD.

So next time you sense there is more to be said as the ignition is switched off, don’t ignore it and open that car door. STAY IN THE DARK, SCARY HONESTY BOX! I realise that’s not the most enticing proposition. But if you care about your relationship, your partner and your happiness, you’ll be brave and you’ll suck it up. (And then realise you’re still wearing your seatbelt halfway through like a moron.)

Email me if my comment is published