During Christmas time, I experienced an accident that required me to have emergency surgery, forcing me and my boyfriend to cancel all of our plans well into the beginning of January. For a few days after surgery, I was in a state of semi-consciousness; and for several weeks following, my days were spent thinking about the many bandages I had to change throughout the day, and the numerous doctor appointments I had to attend.
For the entire ordeal, my boyfriend remained by my side, taking me to all of my doctor appointments, and reassuring me constantly that all would be well. While I was, unsurprisingly, focused on my own needs during this trauma, I couldn't help but wonder if I was giving enough to my partner.
In times of personal crisis, it's easy -- and understandable -- for us to become self-absorbed and sidetracked by our own pain and other intense emotions. In my case, I sometimes forgot that my partner was experiencing his own version of my crisis -- not only because it affected him, but also because he had his own emotions and experiences going on simultaneously. I think a lot of us have a tendency to behave this way.
If you experience any kind of personal crisis, whether it be emotional or physical, of course take care of your needs first and foremost. But also remember to put yourself in your partner's shoes. Finding the mode of expressing gratitude and appreciation that works for you will lift you up, and keep your relationship feeling more balanced, even amidst whatever turbulence may be going on for you.
With that, here are five easy ways to "give back" emotionally to your partner, even if you are having a tough time.
1. Recognize the intensity of his or her experience.
Most of us probably can remember a time when we really felt something for a loved one. Well, your crisis may be just as shocking and/or distressing for your partner as it is for you. Observing another person's suffering is tremendously difficult, particularly when it comes to loved ones.
As much as you can, try and extend your emotional capabilities beyond what you are going through. This may be difficult recognize that they are in a state of coping as well; they are human, and their willingness to drop everything for you should not be expected, but deliberately acknowledged, and praised.
2. Let gratitude lift you out of yourself.
I can almost guarantee every person has their own unique way of responding to the crisis of a loved one. Your partner is doing what he or she is equipped to do, and may not get everything "exactly right." How could they? We are all only human.
Of course your partner isn't handling the situation the way you would. That is the beauty of being human and handling situations differently. Open your eyes and ears as wide as you can, and try to tap into just how inspirational it is to appreciate someone else's way of being in the world. Inspiration involves being lifted out of ourselves, so try to access the truly uplifting nature of what it means to appreciate someone else.
3. Hold space for negative emotions.
During tough times, it's easy to get wrapped up in your own emotions. Alternatively, we may find it easy to appreciate the kindness of others, especially a partner. But it's also important to take the time and energy to recognize the less sunny side of things. Make sure also to honor the potential pain, frustration, disappointment, sadness, confusion and other emotions that your partner may be feeling. They, too, need the space to process their feelings.
4. Remember two of the most important words.
In the midst of pain, you can forget to utter the two simple words "thank you." Tending to another person should not be a thankless job. And caretaking involves behind-the-scenes work that includes more than just those grand gestures of kindness. So express thanks in whatever way feels most powerful to you and to your partner. Rub their back, write a note, say the words. Most importantly, recognize them.
5. Ask questions!
Particularly in times of intense emotion, we forget to simply ask how we can meet our partner's needs. When the chaos has died down, just ask the question. Even if the answer is, "Nothing, I'm fine," you are giving them a reminder that you care, respect what they are experiencing, and recognize that this is a partnership even though the focus may have been solely on you for a time period.
The connection that I have with my boyfriend has grown even stronger as a result of his resilience during my trauma. Neither of us would have wished for my accident to occur, but we have both learned new ways to honor, appreciate and love each other more deeply as a result. I urge you to remember these simple tips to be able to do the same, even during the good times.