Dear 100 Hour Board,
Anyone have suggestions for how to support your spouse during an extremely difficult year? My husband is a first- year attending surgeon, and holy cow the stress is real. I feel so inadequate to help him process his stress and, occasionally, grief. What can I do, o ye who have been married longer than we?
-My Name Here
I'm not too sure this is going to be very comforting to you, but I think that something important to keep in mind is that the job of support is not particularly glamorous or satisfying. Nothing about your question suggests that you're acting in any way selfishly; I'm just pointing this out. When I consider the times in my marriage when it has been my primary job to support my wife through a hard time, I realize that some part of me was imagining that I would be this stalwart supporter through thick and thin and that there was some movie audience watching me and all the girls were sighing and saying, "I wish I were married to someone like that," and all the men were saying, "now that's a real man." In reality, however, the job of support through difficulty can be in and of itself difficult and isolating. A few things to keep in mind:
- Understand that feeling stressed or frustrated is not an indication that you're doing anything wrong. Taking someone's stress will be stressful. And even though he'll go back the next day into that same stressful situation and you're maybe having a hard time too doesn't mean that he's not leaving home with a thought in his mind that you've got his back. It might not always show, but that feeling will last after this period of time in your life fades and will become a foundational aspect of your marriage.
- Nothing much is going to change because of your support. OK, that sounds bad. What I mean is this: some things have to be lived through and not solved. Example: so, my wife is having a particularly difficult pregnancy right now. She's in pain most of the time that's strong enough that she sometimes can't do even simple things (walking downstairs, holding one of our other children, getting a glass of water, etc.). And no matter how much I do to help her, tomorrow she's going to have those same problems. Sometimes I get irrationally frustrated with her when she asks me for help, ("Why isn't this getting better?"). In my better moments, I know that the point of my support is not to solve her problems, but to help her know that she's not alone and that even though I can't fix her problems, I'm going to make any part of it lighter that I can and that these actions are a symbol of my love. Any desire for her to be "better" is actually inherently selfish because I want to be relieved of the burdens that I'm relieving. This is hard for me and I'm deeply imperfect when it comes to this form of support because I end up getting frustrated over my lack of control and the loss of my own freedom and desires. But that's what we signed up for. Some day, the roles will be reversed and I'll be grateful for her support of me.
This whole post sounds kind of pessimistic, but I think it's important to realize that this kind of support will not feel glamorous or flashy or movie-like. It will likely be a tough go for a while. But it's also important to remember that that's what it needs to be and that it not feeling great is not a sign that you're doing it wrong. Again, I'm not sure if this is terribly comforting, but it's the best advice I can think of to give. Good luck!
The Man with a Mustache
Dear My Name,
is there a group of spouses or partners in the same boat? An older spouse who can lend a sympathetic ear?
Sometimes having a community that gets it gets us through the hard times. And it might be hard to explain the specific challenges to others.