"I'll lean on you and you lean on me and we'll be okay." ~ Dave Matthews Band
It is the day after Christmas and I am sitting here thinking of all the blog entries I want to write. My writing has taken a nose dive recently for a variety of reasons and I can always tell when it has been far too long since I have done any writing. Whole sentences and paragraphs start to form in my head in the middle of the night when I am fighting my enemy, the evil insomnia. Or I will be having a conversation with someone and sometimes find my mind wandering to all the thoughts in my head that I want to get written down.
Today is my day to get my mind and spirit back to my passion. To be honest, over the past month or so, I have been so distracted and overwhelmed, that I couldn't even concentrate long enough to put all of those sentences and paragraphs together. But like so many other times, it was my fiance, Chuck, who gently reminded me with one of his Christmas presents, that writing is the one of the things in this world that I need to do.
He is so good like that; paying attention to what is going on with me and supporting me. I used to worry that because of my illness, he gets the short end of the stick, having to be the strong one more often than not. We have only been together a little over two years and we have endured our share of challenges, in regards to life, my health and, as all couples do, our relationship. Usually though when some type of challenge faces one of us, the other person is in a good enough place to be a strong support. But then what do you do when:
One of you gets so sick that you are hospitalized for five days. And more testing and uncertainty follows.
One of you is having a lot of stress at work.
Your dog gets sick enough to require four vet visits in one week and multiple tests.
One of your cars breaks down.
One of you has been hurt by someone you love and trusted.
One of you is faced with the possibility of another autoimmune illness.
One of you has a sister who undergoes life changing surgery.
One of you is told that you have a growth on your gallbladder that has a remote possibility of being malignant and you have to make a decision about whether it is worth the risk of surgery.
Christmas is fast approaching.
One of you is told that your mother is dying.
And all of this happens within the time frame of one month.
So what do you do? What do you do as a couple with so little time under your belt when both of you are stressed beyond limits that you think you can handle?
They say that love conquers all but I am not sure I agree with that anymore. Rather, I think love, friendship, determination, faith, compassion, selflessness, and most of all communication conquers all. Because once you are committed to someone, experiencing crisis is no longer a solo event. You have to be able to not only support your partner in their struggles, but deal with your own feelings as well. It is easy to get caught up in your own challenge of just getting yourself through the day, but it's no longer just "your" day. The day belongs to both of you.
I cannot speak for my fiance but for myself, in the past month, if I was trying to be there as a support for him, I rose to the occasion. Almost to an extreme. If I knew he was stressed out and then asked me how I was doing, I would sometimes downplay something going on with me. I think there is a time and place for that, depending on the seriousness of what which each person is going through, but I am here to say that for the most part, it doesn't work well. Because he knows me so well, he then worries more. Being a martyr for your partner's sake is not the answer. Open and honest communication is.
We are by no means on the other side of the current challenges that we face and we may not always get it right, but I can say what has worked well:
*We ask each other "how are you today?" It seems like such a basic question but if you are in a relationship, think about the last time you actually asked your partner that question.
*By sitting down together, we have learned to prioritize the most immediate needs of the week, day, and even hour. It may be him traveling to Boston Christmas morning to spend time with his mother, knowing that I physically can not make the trip that day. It could be me doing some Christmas shopping for him so that he is freed up to deal with other things.
*We make sure we connect as frequently as possible and make each other the priority right now. I will actually consciously have to stop whatever I am doing sometimes and make sure that I have not been so wrapped up in my own problems and stress that I have not made myself emotionally available. On the flip side, I will also ask him if he needs time alone.
* Make sure we laugh together every single day, at least once.
* Depend on other people. Historically, both of us are terrible at this and the events of the past month have taught us that not only is it okay to ask for help, but that you also need to know who you can depend on for help. Especially when you need a listening ear. One human being cannot be all things to another.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, we hang onto each other as tight as we can.