Partnership Through Hardship
I know that Jay and I have only been together for 7.5 years and married for only half a year but its fair to say that we've faced our fair share of hardship throughout the course of our relationship. So many people have said things to me about how my accident (and the events, surgeries, pain...that followed) was a kind of "sink or swim" test for Jay and my relationship and how we are such a strong couple to have made it through. I wholeheartedly agree and have said on many occasions that Jay vowed "in sickness and in health" to me long before we stood at the alter. I think that we can get through anything because we built a solid foundation of support for one another.
The thing is though, I wasn't ever nervous about not making it through. I remember being upset about entering a "long distance" relationship that would involve him having to visit me at the hospital bed in my parent's living room on the weekends if he wanted to see me. I remember being upset about having to "burden" him with my issues, especially since we were only 22 years old. I remember thinking that it was unfair that a part of our youth and the freedom of our 20s were being stolen from both of us. Hardest of all (and this still holds true), I had to see the pain in the person that I love most in this world's eyes as he watched me in pain.
There wasn't a second where I didn't think that Jay wasn't going to be completely there for me. We still face hardship as a result of that accident daily. Jay makes sacrifices every day in the name of partnership. He has to base aspects of his schedule around my pain, he picks up slack for chores that I can't do without hurting myself, he leaves parties early or doesn't even attend to stay with me. What's worse than all of that though is the fact that he has to carry the emotional "burden" of my medical situation right along with me. It's a rollercoaster of a ride but I am so grateful that he is strapped right in next to me for it. That being said, I am there for him fully through all of his hard times as well.
Hardship comes when we least expect it sometimes. It can be found in purely crappy times (like the ones mentioned above!), in times of transition (like not sleeping enough hours with a newborn!), or in day to day life (like being upset about something that happened at work!). The reality is that hardship will always be down the road and that's just something that we can't control. What we can control is our reaction to it and the partner that we chose to go down that road with. Here is my "advice" for successfully navigating partnership through hardship. Please note that each relationship is unique, there is no right way to do things and I am only sharing what has worked for me and my relationship. These are all things that I practice regularly but that I have to work at.
Is Jay an amazing person? YES! He is such a great guy with an incredible heart. He loves his people largely, cares about the world and all that jazz. Is he a walking saint? No. Jay is a great guy and there are tons of other great people out there in the world too. The reason that I chose wisely with Jay is because he is the greatest version of himself with me and I am the greatest version of myself with him. That's not to say that he doesn't take out his crankiness after a long day of work on me from time to time and that I don't give him the short end of the stick by "keeping it together" all day and then crying in pain to him at night. Instead, it means that we want to be the best for one another with everything we've got in us because we are each other's "person." Jay wasn't exactly a true gentleman with all other girls that he was with in the past. In fact, I was the first girl he ever brought home...his first girlfriend ever! It's not because there was a lack of girls in his life (yikes haha), its because none of them were the one for him. I didn't pick the "nicest" boy in the room. I picked the boy that was definitely the nicest to me but more so that I wanted to be the nicest to.
This is really going there but its a concrete example that I can think of that will illustrate what I mean better....choose someone who only is pleasured in bed when you are pleasured. Find someone who can't get "into it" unless YOU'RE "into it." That is just an example but the point is to find someone who you are undoubtedly connected to. The person that experiences your happiness truly like it's their own (and visa versa) and contrarily feels your sadness right along with you (and you with theirs). That person will weather any storm with you because your storm is their storm. Your victory is their victory. End of story.
Step In and Out When Your Partner Needs To Step Out and Down
You know when you're already running on empty and then your partner also starts nearing an empty tank? Those times are my least favorite. You're already scraping the bottom of the barrel with all you've got to get by and that's so much easier to do when you can lean on someone whose getting by okay. There have been so many times when I am recovering from a surgery and Jay is in the middle of a big project at work and working crazy hours and so stressed out. Those are the times when you have to really dig deep and find something that you can offer. Even if it's as small as taking care of dinner by ordering delivery or sending sweet, encouraging text messages...do it.
Just because YOU are going through something, doesn't mean that your partner isn't and that he/she doesn't need you. Find a way (even a small way) to be intimate, even when you don't have the time or energy. There have been MANY times where I was forced into abstinence after surgery but that doesn't mean that we didn't make out like 14 year olds at a movie theatre because you can't just deviate fully from intimacy. Additionally, create opportunities to have moments that aren't totally crappy together, even if it's just binge watching a show on the couch.
The other part of this is that your struggle IS your partner's struggle. I try to remind myself of this frequently. I can explicitly remember days where I left the doctor's office where I found out that I was going to need another surgery and go into a little grieving period. I tend to get crushed and just let myself feel the weight of it for a beat before pulling myself up by the boot straps and forging forward full force. I have sat in a chair looking at Jay, gasping between my sobs, as I express all of my fears, sadness...and seeing him just staring back at me. It's like I dumbly thought that he could just go directly into comforting mode before taking his OWN beat to grieve. I've never been mad or upset about it...I've only just been thrown off for a second in the heat of all of it all. When you are experiencing a high volume of your own emotions, it's hard to even have a chance to think about your partner's emotional experience. Now that I've done it enough times, I know to now ask how he's feeling, what he's thinking, and how he's coping with it all (although admittedly still probably not as much as I should).
One of the great perks of having a partner is picking up one other's "slack" and taking care of each other when you're needed but that becomes SO challenging when you need to be taken care of too. Where there's a will there's a way though. Trust me...you can do it.
Don't Assume You Get Unlimited Passes
When you are the one going through a hard time, its important to be conscious of how you act towards your partner. If you're over tired, you can't just bi*** and moan to your partner and take your bad mood out on them. If you're over worked, you can't just assume that your partner will pick up your share of household chores. Yes, you get a pass to be a little cranky once in a while. Yes, you get to ask your partner to pick up slack for parenting responsibilities or household chores when you're strapped on time and energy. Don't assume you get unlimited passes though. Find a way to get your mood in line on your own (meditate...). Find a way to not deviate SO far from your "norm" as a couple for SO long or it's hard to find your way back to regularly scheduled programming in your house.
This is definitely a strength of mine and a hard thing for Jay but it's something that he is always working on and making lots of progress at. I can be in the worst of pain, didn't sleep (from said pain), am upset (about said pain) and will still find a way to be pleasant towards Jay/anyone. I have to dig DEEP inside of me to not be a raging b-word but I make it happen because I am SO COMMITTED to MAKING it happen. That doesn’t mean that I’m necessily chipper.. it just means that I try not to play hot potato and throw all of the negative things I’m feeling inside onto him. That's not to say that I never lose my patience but I do my best to not take my sh** out on Jay. After all, he is my number one advocate. Remember that your partner is on your team and KEEP reminding yourself that when you are struggling. You are on the same side of the battle and fighting the same war at the end of the day.
Ask For What You Need
One of the things that I've really pushed for is a safe space to express what we need, when we need it and for it to be okay. For example, if Jay gets home from a long day at work and is shot, it's totally okay for him to say "Hi babe...I'm fried. Wanna tell me about your day and then just watch a show together? I'm not up for talking much." It's not about me, him not wanting to talk to me, ect. I would MUCH rather us turn on a show and lay in peace than him NOT express this to me and take out his long day on me by being cranky and argumentative.
Jay and I tease each other a lot and have a great time doing it (I know its not for everyone but we're sarcastic people who like to laugh and can take a joke). You know when you're just feeling raw though? Sometimes I feel like I'm just trying to keep my head above water and not drown. I feel needier than normal and more sensitive than normal during those times. I'll say, “I feel raw. Can you be really gentle with me today? I'm not up for being teased." I also usually say something like “I'm looking to be treated exclusively like your lover and not like your sister who you tease” because I'm a sick f-word who likes to tease him even when I don't want to be teased haha!
The reason that I included examples of what we say is because it's important during these times to not point fingers. Don't say, "you usually are so mean to me and I just want you to be nice." Also, I think it's important to stay ahead of it. Recognize what you are feeling and express that right away. Preventing the mood in the room from going south is a lot easier and more enjoyable than trying to fix something. It also makes the most sense for you and what you're going through. If you had a long day at work, do you really want to come home and fight with your husband and then have to put the pieces back together and apologize? That sounds like it is only going to take your exhaustion to the next level!
Just Stick With It
Just be there. Most of us just want to feel seen and heard when we're going through a hard time. You don't have to "fix" everything, you just have to be there. When your partner expresses his/her feelings, you usually don't even have to say much back. We all just crave validation for those feelings and want someone to say "that sucks. I'm here." Learn quickly how to put your partner first and your partner will put you first in return. When the going gets tough lean in. If you take two blocks that are standing upright and lean them in towards each other, they will stand up and support each other in a little triangle form. If you lean out, you both crash. Just stick with it. True partnership is the bees freaking knees. I promise it's worth it.