Softie and stoic. Psychologist and attorney. 5’4″ and 6’5″. Couch potato and gym rat. “The sky is falling!” and “Don’t waste my time!” Can we just get along?
It’s no surprise that my husband and I, like many couples, cope differently when the world turns to crap. And make no mistake, that is crap happening outside my very window even as I write this. My husband had a cold? The virus? Cooties? Whatever it is, we are on quarantine, and we are both stuck at home together, 24/7.
This morning my husband waited until I was up and moving to have breakfast with me, which was sweet because he’s a big guy and he’s always hungry. But before I could even get out the word “coffee,” I was in full Edvard Munch mode, crying not only for myself but for all the suffering in the world–no, make that all the additional suffering in the world. While I listed all the injuries and injustices that were making me sad–people without access to medical care, people worried about how they would make rent or buy food, people scared and lonely and ill–he listened, his face still and calm.
After a few minutes, he stoically passed the tissues, and after another few, he could see I was in need of a hug. He held me and I felt better. I knew he didn’t feel the same way I did–worried yes, but shit happens, you know? And we’ve just got to cope as best we can, what else are we going to do? I’m not even sure he completely understood the pain I was feeling, just as I don’t completely understand how he can be so, well, calm at a time like this.
Many couples experience what has been called “emotional drift” during times of stress–say, while planning a major event, undergoing treatment for infertility, or losing a parent–because each copes in a different way. One withdraws into themselves and is seemingly unavailable to the other, while the other just needs to express all of their feelings. One throws themselves into work, the other is immobilized. One seeks comfort in spirits, the other seeks comfort in the spiritual.
Can couples survive if they cope differently, and if so, how? Clearly they can, because we have many times over the course of our 34 year marriage. We have done so very simply by talking and listening. And I don’t mean I talk and he listens! I mean that we talk about how we are managing. He doesn’t judge my existential angst, and I don’t judge his pragmatism. I appreciate that some of his cool demeanor has rubbed off on me, helping me to stop and think before acting out because of a wave of anger or fear. And some of the ways in which I have expressed my feelings have prompted him, in turn, to be more in tune with his and to open up if he really needs to.
And we are there for each other. Just the act of being together, of experiencing life’s challenges together, is part of our relationship. Both of us know that we might not be able to fix things, that we might just have to hang tough and get through a situation–you know, like a pandemic. Sometimes we might both feel exactly the same, maybe disappointed by the way something was managed or glad for a positive outcome. But for the most part, we respect one another and stand side by side, a team. Us against the world.
Which is a very good thing when the world has unexpectedly turned upside down. When everything feels uncertain, we know there is only one thing we can be certain of: that we love each other, and we’ll get through it. Softie and stoic. Water and rocks. Yin, and yang.