Adulthood in general is difficult. Add in parenting, and it becomes a complete mess. Add in a child requiring a transplant, and you might as well just sit back and sip a martini as your life dissolves into utter chaos. It is in these times that patience and understanding are the keys to maintaining healthy channels of communication and preserving your relationships.
My husband and I had very different coping mechanisms while N was in the hospital, and it was very difficult for me to understand how he handled his emotions. He took one day at a time and focused on the future. He always maintained a positive attitude, and he tried to get me to do the same. However, I’m a professional worrier. I always have been. It’s just what I do. I get so tangled up in the “what ifs” that I become overwhelmed by the darkness. What if his heart fails again? What if the surgery doesn’t work? What if his body rejects his heart? What if all of this was my fault? What if this could have been avoided? What if I fail him?
These what ifs haunt me. They hang over me like my own personal guillotine just waiting to fall. My husband and I just don’t see eye to eye on this. He tells me to just not think about it. If those things happen, we tackle them as they come. We eat our elephant one bite at a time. But I just can’t help but worry about these what ifs. Chalk it up to a personality flaw.
It’s here, in these different coping strategies, that I fail to communicate. I tend to shut down and shut people out. I don’t want to be told everything will be okay, because what if it isn’t? I just want to cry my stresses out and then soldier on as best I can. Even now, when I stress about our clinic visits and assessments, he tries to alleviate my worries by telling me we’ll take things as they come. I know he’s just doing everything he can to make me feel better, and I love him to infinity and beyond for it. But it drives me bonkers! Sometimes I just want to worry, because it gives me something to do while I’m waiting for whatever event I’m worrying about to transpire. And it only makes me feel worse when someone points out to me how useless it is to worry. I’m fully aware of how counterproductive it is to sweat the small stuff, but it’s what allows me to prepare myself for potential outcomes. I always hope for the best, but I always prepare for the worst. And when everything turns out just fine, I get to breathe a sigh of relief and my husband gets to say “I told you so.” And that works for us.
I’ve had to explain to him that sometimes I just want a shoulder to cry on. “I don’t want you to fix anything, I just want you to hug me.” And he now understands that I can’t just bury the what ifs. So he lets me stress and plan and make lists and worry, and then when it’s all said and done, I let him remind me that he was right.
You and your spouse or significant other need to find what communication channels work for you when it comes to your stressors and triggers. Let them know what sets you off so they can either work to avoid doing or saying those things, or they can help you avoid external stimuli and act as a buffer. Let them know when you’re having a difficult day. And when they tell you they are having a difficult day, be their rock in return. It’s all about reciprocity.
And if they have a different coping mechanism than you do, don’t try to change the way they handle their emotions. Everyone manages their emotional responses differently, and sometimes that doesn’t translate well between people. You don’t have to understand why someone is behaving the way they are, you just need to know what they need from you. If something is bothering my husband, more often than not he just wants a hug. He doesn’t want to ask for one, I’m just supposed to know that’s what he wants. This is just something I’ve learned over the years. So when he gets grumpy, I just give him a hug, and everything smooths over. Know what your partner needs from you, and try to provide that understanding. And if you need something from your partner, let them know, because none of us are mind-readers. We can’t help each other if we don’t know what each other needs. That’s why we need to communicate and seek to understand one another.
Tucker and I are a great team. Somehow we are able to manage the stress of all of this together. That’s not to say that we don’t get short with one another or say things with a tone that isn’t always nice. At the end of the day, we both love and respect each other. We couldn’t handle this alone, and it’s comforting to have him be my safe place. I think it’s also important for all couple to take time to nurture their marriage. Our goal is at least one date night a month. Depending on what’s going on, we don’t always make time for it, but it’s so nice when we do.
-Amanda and Tucker Boswell, son Davis 15 months post heart transplant
Like Amanda said, we have to work together and we have to nurture our relationships. Life is not always easy, but it sure makes it easier when you’re a team.
*** If you or your spouse or significant other are harming yourselves, or if you think you or they might be clinically depressed, please get help immediately. Speak to each other, your doctor, your pastor, a trusted friend, absolutely anyone. You are not alone, and you can get through this. Please speak to someone about how you are feeling and how you can get help. The number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Please call.