Where the Intertwined Branches Meet

By Mark E. Smith

I was asked how my wife and I maintain a healthy marriage in times of adversity? After all, that’s when most couples struggle, albeit based on health issues, financial crisis, pressures of parenting, or countless other life circumstances. In fact, it’s a topic I’ve pondered and my wife and I have discussed, especially based on recent health issues in our family. So, what have we learned about trotting through the tough stuff in life as a couple?

We’ve identified four key components to successfully facing life’s adversity as a couple that serve us well. I realize there’s no science to this, as each couple and their personalities differ. However, there’s merit to what we’ve learned, sound factors based on our experience.

Firstly, an advantage to any relationship is in knowing whether the individuals can, in fact, address adversity in healthy ways. The fact is, some people can’t. I live and work in disability culture, and I’ve heard many stories of accident and illness, where when adversity struck, the healthy partner left. We don’t like to believe that happens, but it does. It’s not always predictable, but if we know that our partner can handle adversity, it’s a tremendous reassurance. My wife and I both knew adversity as individuals before we met, so there was a confidence that our vows of “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and in sickness and in health.” If you’re in a long-term relationship, you’re going to experience all of these, and each partner must be committed to moving through them, not caving when times get tough.

Secondly, it’s imperative to tackle the issue, not each other. Too many couples lash out at each other during adversity rather than focusing on the issue. If you can address the problem as a team – pointing at it, not each other – you’ll simultaneously solve the issue and strengthen your relationship. I call it the “high-five effect.” Celebrating victory as a couple is tremendously empowering to a relationship.

Thirdly, respect each other’s individual experience amidst adversity, as they may not be the same. This is an invaluable principle that my wife and I learned the hard way. I was recovering from a health issue and she was placed in the role of caregiver. One morning both of our emotions around the situation came to a head. I expressed mine, she expressed hers, and soon we were in a war of words for whose perspective was right? The fact was, we were both right in our feelings, as our experiences within the circumstance were different based on our roles. We learned to respect what each other was going through based on our individual experiences, not assume that they were the same or that there was only one perspective.

Lastly, it’s vital to not neglect the core normality of the relationship regardless of the adversity. For us, this means that humor, affection, romance, and shared joys remain during even the toughest of times. Ideally this is an intuitive and natural part of the relationship, regardless of circumstance; but, sometimes we should stop and think, “What does my partner need at this moment?”

My wife and I are just a married couple trying to make it through the trials and tribulations of life like everyone else. We’ve faced a bit more adversity than some, and a bit less than others. Yet, despite our lessons learned, there’s still a simple truth to all lasting relationships: Love conquers all.

Play In Pain

By Mark E. Smith

At this writing, hurricane Sandy is bearing down on us, and it looks like I have to ride home in my power wheelchair in rain and 40mph winds. And, I’m totally fine with that – no big deal. Now, I have other options, but they seem illogical to me. I have over 400 hours of accumulated time off, so I could have stayed home, or even worked from home. Or, I could call someone to bring my van and pick me up. But, why would I do either of those? Schools are closed, and people are hunkering down with storm supplies, but a little discomfort – or, a lot – never persuaded me to stop from doing what’s best for me and those who count on me, like my going to work like any other day, regardless of a supposed looming hurricane.

We live in culture where too many people seem to resist “playing in pain,” sidelining themselves from the game of life, albeit due to emotional, physical, or mental challenges. It’s as if why try when you can just give up? There’s a storm brewing, so let’s cancel school. I’m sick, so I’m not going to work. My boyfriend broke up with me, so I’m going to sleep all weekend. I lost my job, so I’m just going to sit around the house….

No, just because bad things happen doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel, give up on ourselves, make excuses, or stop our lives. Rather, in times of adversity, we should pick up the pace. They make rain gear to weather storms, and when storms hit our own lives, you might say that rather than run and hide, we should don our rain gear – that is, our inner-strength – and head into the storm, head on. After all, weathering storms is how we grow and become stronger.

The next time you find yourself with the two options of adversity – to play in pain with pride, or seat yourself on the sidelines of life with pity – don your rain gear and head into the storm, with courage and tenacity. Choose to “play in pain,” and you will come out stronger.