Who Gets to be Strong This Time?

Ah marriage. The company line is your spouse will be strong when you are weak and vice versa. That is how you support each other.

What happens when that stops being true? What happens to a marriage when both people are at their weakest point; when both people are depressed, defeated, low-spirited and anxious? Who gets to be the strong one then?

The year before we got engaged, hubby and I got the flu at the same time. H1N1. The only time I’ve ever had the flu in my entire life. Not only did we both have the flu, we had bronchitis. For a week and a half we lay next to each other, half dead, and we had to gingerly negotiate life. With 103 degree temps, chest rattling coughs, wheezing breaths, and full body aches we probably should have just called the Grimm Reaper, but we soldiered on. Coach V and I got through those terrible ten days by taking turns with who got up to get the essentials. It went a little like this.

Coach V (CV): We have to take our meds, I think. (Rattling cough)

Cece V (CCV): (Zombie moan) Everything hurts.

CV: Rock-Paper-Scissors?

CCV: Can’t move. Scale of one to ten, how you feel right now? Don’t lie. I’m at twelve, everything is spinning and I can’t breathe.

CV: (Groans) Nine, and I have to pee. What should I get?

CCV: Meds, juice, and crackers. Love you. (Realizing her bladder is full) Pee for me.

CV: Not possible. (Groans as he gets out of bed and shuffles toward the bathroom)

CCV: (Under breath) You call yourself my soul mate.

Thank God we didn’t have a kid back then. Every day I fought the urge to call his mother, cry into the phone, and beg her to come take care of us. H1N1 was most certainly not the worst thing we’d conquered together, but it was the first time we were down at the same time. We were proud we’d handled it so well. We got through it together.

Fast forward. After a disturbing therapy session of discussing my depression and my tiny support system, I needed to discuss my discoveries with my husband.

I went home, sat him down, and dumped. He said, “You never told me.” To be honest, it pissed me off; I almost started an argument right there. Instead I said, “You don’t have to tell me when you are sad, I can see it, I can feel it. You show it every day.” He looked me in my eyes and said, “I know, but you don’t. You always hold it in. Unfortunately, you carry sadness and depression well. How was I supposed to know?”

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Several things hit me at once.

One, I have degrees in psychology and social work. I was expecting someone who was currently suffering from anxiety and depression to somehow intuit my own anxiety and depression. Face palm.

Two, I was caught in the same pattern I’d been in my whole life of protecting the world from my feelings, while expecting someone to see them. Double face palm.

Like a good wife, I felt I needed to be strong for him while he recovered from his depression. Simultaneously, I desperately needed him to be strong for me. I had secretly hoped he’d snap out of it, morph into a knight in a well pressed Polo, and help pull me out of my sad little pit.

None of those things had really happened and we’d begun to be resentful.

Hindsight being 20/20, I now see that we completely and utterly missed the lesson in the H1N1 situation. We let the 50/50 Marriage Fallacy get us.

When you are both weak, you simply be there. Communicate constantly. Show empathy. And if your partner is unable and you are, you pick up the slack that day.

That is true partnership. Not false strength. Not “saving” one another. Just being there. Period. You shoulder the burden together. You talk it through, or sit in silence and be sad and miserable together. You encourage one another. You cry together. But you never let the other break.