I remember that day like it was yesterday.
The year was 1998. My grandfather had just passed away and all of us kids came out for the funeral.
My dad and my godmother were with him when he took his last breath and they had shared the news with us on the phone a couple of days before.
And there we were, standing room only, my cousin and I, the only two crying.
Tears rolling down our faces.
And I remember looking around, wondering what on earth was wrong with all these people.
This IS a really sad occasion.
He IS really gone.
Why are we the only ones that are responding in what seemed like the appropriate way to the situation?
It made me mad.
It made so mad, in fact, that I didn’t talk to any of the adults for the remainder of that trip.
I couldn’t make sense of it.
I didn’t know then what I know now.
I was only 18.
I didn’t know a single thing about how grief works.
Or that people grieve in different ways.
I had no idea that grief has stages or knew what they were.
Or how to plan for them when they come like waves and you barely have time to take another breath.
We all have our own ways of grieving the loss of a loved one.
The moment of surprise comes when you find yourself at the height of your biggest need.
And it so happens that your need isn’t met by your spouse.
Contrary to all past belief (and experience!), now when you need them the most, they are not there.
More than anything, your spouse has been there for you.
In the past, you two always found ways to comfort each other.
That’s just what you do — it’s what you’ve always done:
When one of you was sick, you’d care for each other.
When you were down to one car because you lent yours to a person in need, you supported each other.
When times got tough with little ones around, you were a team more than ever.
Even when one of you dealt with the loss of a dear one in the past, this support was still in place. We are there for each other. Unwavering. That’s the rule.
You have been there for each other — Every other time.
Now – of all times – now when you need your spouse the most, you wonder why they aren’t showing up.
Why they aren’t there for you.
And why on earth is this happening?
Why do I feel so alone?
You may have all the questions. And in place of answers, there is a void.
The timing couldn’t be any more off.
You are mining in history and remembering all the times they supported you.
When your grandma died.
When your colleague passed away from cancer.
Your spouse was there for you then – what is wrong with them now?
Now – now that it’s even closer to home, more important and more painful in so many ways — why are they so cruel?
Or cruel they seem…
And that is precisely why.
It is precisely in those moments when the loss hits too close to home – for both of you.
When you are both devastated by the news in much the same ways — when the person gone was someone dear to both of your hearts.
It is when loss is shared that you might not be able to be there for each other.
This one time.
And it happens because your loss is shared, your grief is too.
It’s what we call complicated grief.
You both are finding yourselves in the midst of the storm.
One wave after the next.
You may have had a miscarriage.
Perhaps you lost a child to a disease.
Perhaps you lost a parent or a close friend that you both knew and loved and had lots of history with.
Now it’s different.
And this is why.
It’s not that your spouse doesn’t want to support you.
It’s not that they aren’t grieving (even though that’s what it looks like sometimes).
It’s just that they grieve differently.
And the timing is likely off.
When you get hit by the wave, they might be in recovery mode.
Or they might have just gotten hit with three.
Really big ones.
They might be barely coming up for air themselves, unable to assist anyone besides themselves.
When you hit your lowest spot, they might seem disconnected from the pain.
First, you have to remember one thing.
It’s not that they are doing it on purpose.
It’s not that they mean to be hurting you, withholding support and love from you when you need it most.
It’s that they, too, are doing all they can to stay afloat.
Did that make it clear?
Second, know this – I often remind my couples — that your spouse can’t be everything to you.
I know my husband isn’t.
And — guess what?
I don’t even want him to be.
And he is a pretty great guy.
There is no other time that this applies more than when you’re in a time of grief.
This is the time you might need to look for another person to confide in.
For someone you trust to talk to about all this.
The bad and the worst and everything in between.
You both might need to find another person for support.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Talk to your best friend.
Talk to your pastor.
Talk to your aunt.
Find a support group. A mental health professional.
It doesn’t matter – Just find someone.
So that you can take that pressure off of each other.
Third, know this:
There is nothing wrong with you.
There is nothing wrong with your spouse.
When it comes to shared grief and loss like the one you are experiencing, the rules don’t apply.
If ever this is true, it is now.
The more painful of a place it is, the more true it rings.
Even though you are in this together, the sooner you realize that it is ok to need support from elsewhere, the less hurt and resentful you will be in the end.
You don’t want to hold this against your spouse.
Not this time.
It’s not worth it.
Not ever, really –But particularly not now.
Because when the worst of the storm is over, you are still going to find each other right there, standing in the rain. And you can both be ok, together.
Do you think you do??
Let me ask you this first:
Who says you want too much from it?
Who is it that’s asking?
Because it’s essentially irrelevant.
Wait – Did I just say it’s irrelevant?
I absolutely did.
It’s really nobody else’s business but yours.
And I am known to say quite the opposite to my couples about just about everything else.
Once you know what you want from your relationship , who is to say that you are asking too much?
Actually, never mind me asking.
It doesn’t really matter who the person is.
It could be the neighbor across the street, your best friend or family member – none of it really matters one bit.
Because of the bottom line.
Wait, what’s the bottom line?
The way I look at it, the only way that you would think you want too much from your relationship is that either
A. You are told you want too much from your relationship (from someone who isn’t willing to give more)
B. You see other relationships that just wouldn’t meet your criteria because of their lack of something or another
Am I right?
Here is why the bottom line matters.
Because the bottom line is this:
If this other person wants less out of their relationship, that’s on them.
If they are satisfied and can be happy with less, that’s just fine.
But just because that’s the case for them doesn’t mean it has to be the case for you.
And just because they are happy with less doesn’t mean you can’t expect or desire more for your own relationship.
And, like I said before, you are the only judge of that.
You are the one walking in your shoes.
You get to do this on your own.
Or with your spouse, likely.
BUT – You get to make this decision for yourself.
And then you sit with it OR you act on it.
This is real.
Real life sort of real.
That’s why we are talking about it.
So, here goes:
–Just because your sister or brother doesn’t care about their significant other’s education doesn’t mean that you can’t be looking for someone with a PhD.
–Just because your best friend is fine with her husband being out of town hunting every weekend doesn’t mean that you have to be.
–Just because your buddy at work doesn’t need occasional PDA from his wife doesn’t mean that you should lower the bar for yourself.
–Just because your parents were used to not talking for weeks after a big fight doesn’t mean that’s something you have to get accustomed to.
Do any of these resonate?
The only two people that matter in this equation is you and your spouse.
And really, when you and your spouse are not in agreement about some of these things, you are the one and the only person who has to figure that out for yourself.
Ain’t nobody coming and doin’ it.
Here’s the good news.
Once you have it figured out, then you know exactly what you are looking for.
And what you are not.
You’ve got to pay attention to this one.
Maybe you should write it down.
There is no. one. right. answer.
That also means – there is no wrong answer.
What you want and what your best friend wants may not align.
And that is just fine.
‘Cause you are not the same people.
And you are bound to want different things.
What you wanted in your relationship a decade ago – or whenever it was that you two first met – may or may NOT be what you are looking for in your relationship now.
That’s not to say that some of it can’t be the same.
Another part of it may need to shift.
Because we change, our relationships change.
And so do our expectations and desires.
What may have worked for you even a year, month or a week ago – might not work today. And if it’s not working anymore, you had better raise your hand and address it.
The better you are able to communicate that to your spouse, the more likely you are to get what you want.
The more of what you both are able to get from each other, the more real and meaningful your relationship will end up being.
So stop looking around.
Stop obsessing and overanalyzing and triple-checking.
Treat the rest of the world is as if it were non-existent.
It’s just you and your spouse.
How good can you make it?!?
(And yes, that is a Dare.)
We all want great relationships. Who wouldn’t? Yet when push comes to shove, we are often at loss as to how we would go about creating these amazing relationships in our lives. I think it boils down to a couple of things and it starts with needing to talk about the unrealistic (and do I dare say – unhealthy?) expectations that we have for our friends, family members, partners and everyone in between.
So many times when walking into relationships, I hear people voicing these grand hopes and dreams – This person can make me happy. He or she is my dreams come true. I don’t know what I would ever do without them.
And then it continues: I want to marry this person because I know they can make me really happy. They make me want to be a better person. They… (fill in the blank)
Your relationship cannot be made great solely because of what your partner does or doesn’t do. It cannot only hinge on what your partner thinks or doesn’t think. All the weight cannot be on his/her side of the teeter totter.
And yes – you may have heard this before – It takes two to tango. And whether that’s for a mother-daughter relationship, or whether we are talking about your BFF and you. It really doesn’t matter.
For your partner and you, it’s the same thing. Yes, there are two people to put forth effort to create greatness. There are two people to pull in the same direction when, perhaps, the rest of the world is pulling the other way. BUT – the only relationships that will end up in greatness are ones that are able to recognize their own strength and value (as well as weakness and disadvantage) first.
That is why, at weddings, I always cringe a little when I see couples lighting their unity candle, while they end up blowing out completely their own single candles. And just lighting the unity candle. As if we somehow ceased to exist as individuals when we get married. (But that’s a soap-box I can get into at another time and place.)
So I am calling you, husband; you, wife — Know Thyself. What does that mean? Why does it matter?
It’s quite simple, really. If you don’t know thyself, you don’t know what you want and therefore cannot ask for what you need.
Before THEY can know it, YOU need to know who you are, YOU need to know what makes you tick and why, you need to know how the present reality would need to change for you to be content with the given situation.
And just so we are clear, they may be your siblings, your parents, your co-workers, your spouse, your friends or your kids.
Maybe you just came home from a two-week long vacation with your in-laws and their friends, and every minute of every day was spent in company of at least ten people you don’t really know and – do I dare say – care about?
Maybe your spouse just dragged you from one party to the next while you were visiting college friends out on the west coast and, being that you are an introvert, the only memory you have of the entire trip is being miserable and pissed off at him or her, leaving you feeling disappointed and resentful.
Maybe you just spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s sitting at home, as if imprisoned, doing absolutely nothing other than bothering and bring bothered by the person who, of all people, should know better that this is not how you imagined spending your hard-earned vacation.
Do you ever stop to think why you are so bothered? Do you ever stop to figure out what, in this perfect picture of vacation, has gone awry?
It may be someone else’s idea of perfect – but not yours. What was missing? What did you need? Did you need more human interaction than that? Were you hoping for some more outings? Some designed-specifically-for-you activity or day in the outdoors?
Or, going back to my example of the two-week vacation on a cruise – were you hoping for more alone time with just your spouse? More attention from him/her?
Before you can tell anyone else what you are missing and what you need, you have got to figure it out yourself.
And if that means that you will need to take some time away & hide in the corner of a local coffee shop with a cool drink in your hand so that you have uninterrupted time to sit and think, then THAT’S what you do. Maybe you need to schedule a solo retreat for yourself once or twice a year. Maybe you spread it out more and take a couple of hours every couple months. And maybe you just maximize the time that it takes you to get to and from work and make the space in your vehicle sacred that way. Every day.
Whatever that looks like, it is YOUR work to do before it can be anyone else’s work to do.
You have got to start here. Great relationships start with two people who have planted their feet firmly on the ground before they can start walking together in unison and make wonderful things happen.