This last year was by far the hardest and most heartbreaking time that my husband and I have endured. Sure, we’re only in our first few years of marriage and—as we married folk know—that comes with days on the battlefield; but on top of all the normal relationship baggage, we’re packing two very different upbringings. Layer that off with being raised in two very different countries, and misunderstanding and confusion are givens. Then frost that last layer with him getting laid off and taking a night job while I’m working a new job with office cliques and regular firings, and our connection is at an all-time low. Now top it all off with me being pregnant with our second child, and there you have a relationship version of your own personal hell.
That year was one of the hardest I’ve pulled through (and this former foster child knows a thing or two about hard times). The lack of understanding we had because of different values, ideas, worldviews, and expectations had us both feeling painfully unloved. And pregnancy only amplified this for me by adding body shame to my growing list of outrageously large insecurities.
As the months passed through the heat of summer and into the chill of winter, our hearts also grew cold. Our problems escalated with everything coming to a heart-crushing climax between Thanksgiving and Christmas that had me experiencing lows of the highest level.
The days were bleak and the nights were blinding and “happiness” became a vague and blurry memory. I had only one foot onshore to keep me from being lost to the whirlpool of darkness within me, and it took everything in me to not give up and just let myself drown in it. Stepping forward seemed impossible because I was heavy with doubt and wincing from the painful weight in my heart. At times, I claimed it was impossible and I believed all the obstacles before me had been put there by my husband himself. But in the darkest of times, I remembered that the only way out of hell is to go through it, so I forced my gaze up and looked forward.
I slowly gained energy with faith and determination, and the more steps I took, the straighter I began to stand; and the straighter I could stand, the clearer I could see the path before me. There were many days that I took a step or two back. Then there were the days I stopped moving altogether and simply sat. But each step and every rest made me stronger and wiser, and before I knew it I was standing on a glorious peak with a smile upon my face. And when I looked to my left, my husband was standing there beside me.
Getting to this place was one hell of a journey—a journey that many people would have abandoned. Most of us will choose an easy route over one with steep and rocky trails, but as much as I yearned to sprint down that hellacious path, I told myself my only choice was to find a foothold so I could keep moving onward. And because of those slow and strenuous steps, I now stand at new heights with the seasoned muscles and knowledgeable mind that one can only ever come with reaching such a destination.
The trek was hell and it threatened to break me all along the way, but I learned some incredible things on this challenging journey—insights that I’ll cherish now and forever. For all of you struggling to find the balance between love and war, I share some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned especially for you.
Look at any given situation and we can find something unfair about it. Because of that, we’re likely to pass on any resolution-based thinking so that we can throw ourselves a pity party where we find a hundred things to cast blame on (which conveniently clears us of taking any sort of responsibility). But just like it takes two to tango, it also takes two to create a problem. And while we’re all aware of the literal side of this analogy, this interpretation barely scratches the surface of this insightful advice.
Throw two tangoing dancers face-to-face and tell them to move left, and they’ll be moving in different directions. Their perception of left differs from the person they’re dancing with, but it’s definitely correct from where they’re standing. But since the other dancer doesn’t have this same angle on things, they’re going to fall out of rhythm and find themselves in an argument that may have them abandoning dancing altogether. Just like these dancers, we’ll also have different perceptions of what’s “right” and “wrong” (not because we’re superior but because we have different life experiences, and preferences, and gender differences). And while we’re ready to stomp our feet and claim that the problem lies with them, they may only be wrong from the angle where our current experiences and ideas have us standing. If we can’t step back from our stance, we’ll never be able to take a look at every possible angle. And if we can’t consider the stance of each angle, we’ll never move together in rhythm.
The tango of relationships comes with basic steps, but it’s our individual flair—our experiences and ideas—that brings this dance to life. Be flexible and open-minded and you’ll find yourself able to dance to whatever music life plays for you.
Like I mentioned, we’re wired to think about ourselves. This mindset has made survival possible for every species living on earth, so it’s a given that it’s our nature to be selfish. But while this powerful mode of thinking is critical to matters of survival, it has disastrous potential with relationships.
When we think as though the world should revolve around us and everything we want or don’t want, we begin to look more ridiculous than admirable and courageous. The slightest tickle along our mental and emotional defenses can have us ready to wage war in a stand again “Right v. Wrong” or “Fair v. Unfair.” Some might say it’s necessary to take such a stand, but chances are good that the whole attack was born from a need to protect ourselves. And since we’re only concerned with our own well-being, we’re going to do things without ever considering the harm that we’ll inflict on others as well as ourselves. Because when two people create a relationship, they’re uniting and joining forces. That means that any attack against them is actually an attack against yourself. That’s like pouring poison into their cup as you unknowingly drip the toxin into your very own glass.
The Mind Is Our Own Worst Enemy
Find yourself a Tony Robbins YouTube video, and you’ll hear that everything we think and do boils down to two things; pain and pleasure. No matter how logical we’re trying to be, we’re supposedly seeking pleasure or trying to avoid pain. Agree or disagree, this simple psychological approach clearly benefits us (i.e., sex = pleasure but cheating = pain, so stay single or go monogamous), but our need to bypass uncomfortable consequences has our minds drowning in the great debate of pleasure versus pain. Whether the end result lies in seeking or avoiding, we’re going to be consumed by our thoughts as we run through every possible scenario and every possible reason for it and every possible action with every imaginable outcome. That’s helpful as it helps to guide our actions but, unfortunately, all this seeking and avoiding is generally done with only three people in mind: me, myself, and I.
When we’re only thinking of all the what-ifs that me, myself, and I want to avoid, we’re only going to be able to see scattered pieces of a large and complex puzzle. And any time we’re lacking important pieces in information or understanding, we’re going to be putting pieces in the wrong places without ever knowing it. We can all agree that it would be absolutely idiotic for a surgeon to pick up a scalpel and start cutting away based on their own ideas and assumptions, because the only person who knows where the pain is coming from is the person that’s lying naked on the operating table. Yet here we are making choices based on ideas and assumptions that we’ve probably never bothered to run past our partner. Sure, this situation won’t result in losing a healthy kidney like with a surgeon, but it sure as shit will destroy a heart, yours especially.
So before you listen to anything from the whiny and self-absorbed me, myself, and I, tell them to shove it so you can go clear your head. Clarity may come within a few hours or it may take days and days, but time is of no essence when it means you won’t be acting like an egocentric ass with a hot temper. There’s a self-sabotaging enemy that hides within all of us, so don’t trust yourself until you’ve kicked me, myself, and I out of the conversation.
We All Share The Same Desire
It’s easy to label someone a jerk, but any behaviors that seem even remotely jerky are born from the same need: the desire to feel loved and accepted. The moment we feel a gaze peering down on us, we immediately throw on our battle armor to fend off any potential attack. So whether the attack threat is real or not, we’re sending out offensive and defensive attacks to protect ourselves from the slightest harm, be it spear or sliver (and even slivers can appear as spears from the right angle). And even when there’s no real threat, we’re now leading ourselves into a battle because we’re bringing an attack to the other side. Thus, our fear of not being loved and accepted now has our partner feeling unloved and unaccepted, and so comes a war where the love is long forgotten.
If we’re acting like a jerk, it’s because we feel hurt. Stop making it about you so you can find some room for a little compassion. Once you can open your eyes to see everything around you, you’re sure to see a whole other side of your partner that’s no longer out of focus.
In short, if I could get you to take anything from this, it’s that stepping into a relationship means life is no longer about us. Just as having a child makes us responsible for their health and happiness, we too owe this simple and incredible duty to the people we’re sharing our lives with. We were once one part, but we’re now two parts to a whole. Keeping those two pieces held together means going beyond ourselves and our “Me! Me! ME!” mentality.
When we’re mad, we don’t feel like our partner deserves the best from us, but it’s when they’re hurting that our best is EXACTLY what they need from us. All our lives we’ve been looking out for ourselves and thinking of all our own needs—all our lives—but we can learn to look out for our partner and our relationship in just the same way. When it comes to partnerships with two healthy-minded people, solving issues may be as simple as being mindful and taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions. And as much as this may go against our self-based nature, it’s actually the easiest route we could ever take.
As Dwight L. Moody said, “Faith makes all things possible… Love makes all things easy.” Why not test it for yourself?