Learning what it really means to support a husband.
We are fighting over socks. His socks. He has a knack for leaving them in the most bizarre places. The bathroom cupboards. The kitchen counter. This time they were behind the TV. Now they are balled in my hands and I'm muttering something about not being his slave. How can socks make their way behind the TV of all places?
Dave, my husband, is silent for a moment, and then he begins to smile a large sheepish grin. A consummate football fan, Dave shrugs and says, "The Vikings lost." I don’t laugh. "Why are you so mad? Is there something else going on?" he asks.
It seems there is always something else going on.
Dave and I grew accustomed to tragedy early in our relationship. One month before he proposed, I found out that my brother-in-law molested one of my family members. This revelation tore my family apart. I spent the last semester of my senior year in college in therapy, trying to plan a wedding, write a thesis and come to terms with the tragedy that was destroying the people I loved the most. Through it all Dave was there, listening and holding me while I cried. He never tried to give me advice or judge my sudden and furious bouts of anger and frustration. Once I asked him if he was sure he wanted to marry me?
"All of this drama in my family isn’t going away," I said. "When we marry it will be your drama too. 50/50. Is this what you want?"
"If you want to wait to get married, I will wait. But I want to marry you; crazy family and all," he said.
A year later, my father-in-law, Gary, told us he had cancer. It was advanced. He didn’t have long to live. Dave and I worked our schedules so we could visit his family every weekend. Dave and his brothers fished with Gary until he could no longer walk down to the dock. I wanted to come but held my distance, trying to respect their time together. While chemo shrank the man who had run marathons and his own business, Dave sat with him, watching the Vikings, talking only about sports. Their voices were low and normal, even as Gary winced in pain. I sat in the kitchen and read, trying to understand how they were able to be calm — trying not to scream and throw my fists into the wall.
Gary was not only my father-in-law, he was my friend. He gave me support and advice as I navigated my own family tragedy. And the week before the wedding, when I scraped his Jeep on the side of the garage he hugged me and said he was glad it happened because it gave him a chance to show me how much he cared about me.
I wanted to be supportive and calm, the way Dave had been when I was going through my own tragedy.
But I wanted support to be 50/50. I wanted us to alternate grieving. Give and take. I wanted Dave to be there for me just as I thought I was being there for him by giving him space. At night, after we went to bed I would spill out all of my fears. Only a month into Gary’s battle with cancer, as I lay talking, I felt Dave’s head rest on my shoulder. His cheeks were wet. I stopped talking and held him.
Support in a marriage is not a nice 50/50 split. Some days you are giving your all while your spouse is giving nothing and other days you are taking, offering nothing. After that night, I tried to support Dave wholly — giving without taking. It was hard, but I never felt resentment. I knew that soon it would be my turn to give zero. And it was.
Dave’s dad died of cancer in May. In July, my sisters, who were on their way from Florida to visit us in Iowa, were in a horrible car crash. While one sister walked away from the crash with a sprained back, the other spent four months at our house learning to walk again. I had to play mother, nurturer, consoler, chauffer and caretaker. I felt inadequate and afraid. My sister was often withdrawn, but my experience with Dave taught me not to take it personally. Instead of getting angry, I would ask her "What’s up?" and give her a hug. She needed me to support her, and I needed Dave to support me. At night, it was my turn to cry.
When November came, my sister was finally able to go home. She could walk but she would never regain full mobility. It was hard seeing her, only 18, hobbling like an old man. When Dave and I came home, we went to bed and fell asleep holding one another and crying.
Now I stood in front of him, the socks still in my hand.
What was going on? Why was I so angry?
"It’s just, you didn’t used to do this," I said, "It’s like you’re taking me for granted."
"Well, maybe the socks have always been there, you just never noticed them before," he said.
We have been through so much together. I let the socks fall onto the couch. I could pick them up later. If they weren’t important before, they weren’t that important now. I let my anger go. That night, as we went upstairs, Dave grabbed his socks and threw them down the laundry chute. I should have always trusted he would do his part.
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