We fight sometimes. We always have, no doubt we always will. I don't know if we fight more now than before we lost our baby, but it feels like we do. And we fight about stupid little things, like whether I put the towels away in the right place (I didn't) or whether she loaded the dishwasher right (she didn't). And sometimes we fight about bigger things - whether we are supporting each other in the way the other person needs, the times I prioritise work over family, our approaches to parenting.
I'm not that worried about the fights though. We always resolve them, one way our another, and they never drag on for longer than a day (sometimes things fester overnight). Once we both get some time and space, we can usually both find the perspective to respect the other person's point of view, and forgive each other (because it's pretty rarely only one person's fault). I do worry about our relationship. I do worry about the toll this whole experience has taken on us, whether the ties that bind us together have frayed - but I guess I'd be more concerned if I didn't worry.
Our relationship has definitely changed over the past year and a bit, although I'm not sure I can put my finger on exactly how. I felt like in the immediate aftermath of our loss, we came together even more tightly, and we were closer than we've ever been - not happy, happy is the wrong word, but closer. Since then, it feels like the distance between us has ebbed and flowed - sometimes we're walking in lock-step, sometimes one of us is off in the distance while the other one shouts at them to wait up.
In our wedding vows, I called Annamarie my "partner in crime", which was a little in-joke between us, but also captured the essence of our relationship - we've always been partners, equals, best friends. I lean on her, she leans on me - sometimes at the same time. For us, this goes pretty deep. We got together at university, in our very early 20s, so we've grown together into the people we are. Our identities, in many ways, are fused with the other person. I owe my confidence to Annamarie. I owe her my ability to not live like a total slob. I even owe her my vision - I have congenital and extreme short-sightedness, and for years I had accepted my doctors' assurances that nothing could be done. Annamarie encouraged me to challenge that, we got some second opinions, and two surgeries later I can drive a car and not walk into random objects. I owe her that.
There were certainly times recently where I felt like I lost that partner. Not through anything Annamarie deliberately said or did - but when the person you respect most in the world becomes your 24/7 patient for 8-odd months out of a year, that's going to change the dynamic a bit. It's not that I'm angry with her. In fact, seeing what she went through and the dignity, love and just pure guts she brought to the table makes me love and respect her more than ever. But it can be frustrating. Sometimes I'm guilty of treating her requests as an annoyance, if she asks me to reshuffle my schedule last minute, or chop some vegetables when I'm in the middle of something trivial (but seemingly important to me). I will usually do as I'm asked, but sometimes I'm a dick about it. I try to keep that in check, but sometimes it comes out when I'm not thinking.
It's also difficult to judge where "we" are at sometimes - Annamarie is on the mend now physically and emotionally, and she's become much more of a partner again this year, but she is still struggling with a whole lot of stuff. That can be a tough tightrope to walk - I'm never sure whether I'm asking too much of her and she's just handling the jandal (because that's what she does), or whether she is actually OK. Get it wrong one way and I'm pushing her down a rough road, get it wrong the other and I'm babying her (and woe betide the foolish man who babies my wife, sir).
I suppose I am damaged too, and I wonder how much that is driving things in our relationship, whether I'd be stronger and more patient if I wasn't dealing with my own issues. I think I'm "on top of it" (whatever that means), but the thing about a sinking ship is that you often don't see the leak until it's too late. We watched "The Trolls" movie recently, and I got quite emotional. I mean, it was during the emotional bit, where you're supposed to feel sad and inspired by the sharing caring troll-love - but still, it's the Trolls Movie and I'm a 34-year-old man. There's being in touch with your sensitive side, but this was a bit much.
I guess the unpredictability is the hardest thing. We're both on our own journey of recovery, and in some senses discovery, finding out who we are now after all of this, and sometimes we find ourselves at completely different places, both of us needing support and love from the most important person in our lives, and neither of us able to give it. We both process in quite different ways. Annamarie likes to talk, re-tell the story of what happened, examine things from different sides, talk about the "what ifs" and "why fors". On the other hand, I process in silence - I potter around the house, do chores, listen to music, let things percolate away in my subconscious. Then, out of the blue, the pieces will "click" and I'll feel like I understand more, like I've taken a step forward. We both know this about each other, and we try to work around it - I am trying to talk more, and Annamarie is good at giving me space - but there are moments when it's a bit of a train wreck.
Ultimately, I guess we're like everyone - riding a bike, trying to stay in the saddle and constantly course correcting as we go. Sometimes we can coast and enjoy the ride, and sometimes it's an uphill slog, but I take comfort from the fact that we're always talking, always keeping our head up. I know my wife doesn't pull any punches with me (well, not when it counts), and I hope she could say the same of me. We are not perfect, we're not always happy, hell, we don't always like each other but we do have love. It's hard-fought, it's sometimes ugly, and it's not always what we want to be doing at 11pm on a Wednesday when we're both tired and grumpy, but it's there. We're still pedaling forward, and even if we lose our balance, I know I've got a partner to pick me back up again. And so does she.
I think I understand why some marriages don't survive significant loss or trauma. Because it's hard work. Managing the needs of your partner when you're barely managing your own needs is hard work. I know I don't do a very good job of being a supportive partner at the moment. I'm so focused on my own physical and emotional journey that it can be easy to neglect my husband. It's not because I don't care, but because I don't have the room to do anything about it, so it's easier to block it out. And to be honest, I think I have to.
It sounds incredibly selfish to myself as I write this, but the only way forward for me is if I put myself first in order to pull myself out. No one else can do this for me, it's my hard slog. I have a long journey ahead to become the healthy person I plan to become, and the only way I'll get there is if I prioritise myself above everyone else, including my husband and even my son. I think this is part of why I was drawn to the name of our blog. You take yourself with you, no matter what happens, where you go. You'll always be there, and you have to survive your own journey. Sure, sometimes people around you provide support, cheer from the sidelines, but they can't physically move your feet for you, you have to do it yourself.
The most important thing though is acceptance. This happened to us, and it sucks but it happened and we can't change the past, we can only change how we respond to our situation. Some days are good, some days are awful. Sometimes we snap at each other and don't support each others needs, sometimes we're stronger than we've ever been. It's our journey and it's ok for it to be how it is. Not being strong all the time is ok. Not being the perfect partner is ok. Admitting you're struggling is ok. And writing about all of this, while part of me cringes that so many people know some of our really personal thoughts & emotions, it's actually a really good thing. Because we all need to remind ourselves to accept our current situation, be ok with what we're going through, be ok if we're not coping. I look forward to the day that I sit here and think, wow, I haven't actually felt depressed in a while.
I think this article has some great advice, and sums it up better than I possibly could: Ten Tips for Dealing with Grief
Anyway, my profound thinking for this week - you can only be a good partner if you have the capacity to. If your tank is running on empty you need to refill it first, you are your number one priority when you're at your lowest (and in truth that's the time you feel least like putting yourself first). It's also important to communicate with each other and tell the other person your limits. And then just be ok with not being the perfect couple with the awesome marriage for a while. Take a turn into flat-mateville, as long as you don't stay there forever you'll come through it ok. I know we will.
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We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.