It could have gone much worse.
Travel to the in-laws is commonly stressful for couples.
One partner in their childhood home with their families, lured back into childhood patterns. The other partner, an outsider to that family culture, wants to be liked and respected and moving between amusement and struggle with the goings on. It is often a recipe for conflict and distance.
I have been in that scene in previous relationships. I help couples navigate those waters.
But I am luckier than many. My in-laws resemble in lifestyle, philosophies and emotional patterns those of my own family. I recognize the behaviors and know how to work with them
without being upset or offended by them. I am a visitor to a planet that is the twin of the one where I was raised. And I am very grateful to love and be loved by my husband’s wonderful family.
For this trip we faced a significant challenge, though.
My father in law is ill and likely moving to the end of his amazing life. My husband is scared and sad, as is my mother-in-law. The logistics of his illness are challenging. Those challenges and his care were the focus of our time there and it was stressful and difficult for all four of us, in different ways. The combination of in-laws and stress could have easily culminated in a trip that took its toll on our relationship. Instead, it brought us closer.
Let me share how are used this trip to strengthen our marriage and our connection.
1. We were both clear on the purpose of the trip.
There were no competing expectations. This is an area of struggle for many couples. They enter experiences (parties, trips- shopping- house projects) with different and UNSPOKEN expectations and hopes. Invariably, they end in conflict. Spending even a few minutes before embarking on the trip to clarify what our goals are and what was planned for the trip avoided that struggle and the resulting conflicts. We went in united and empowered.
2. We each knew our jobs for the trip.
He was primary support to his family and I was the primary support to him. I understood the impact this trip was going to have on him and how important his presence would be. And I knew he needed my support and understanding in order to get through it as positively and healthfully as possible. Getting clear on roles and responsibilities again prevents the struggle that is common where it we do not clarify. Also knowing that we take turns in these roles in our life: he has supported me with my family and now it is my turn to support him. This is fair, even and mutual.
3. We made time to check in and reset when things got too difficult.
What did this look like? A wink across the room, a silly face to indicate the chaos happening around us. A hand on the back when signs indicate stress is rising. The awareness that this is a train that has no ability to stop and we are just passengers together on this ride. We talked about it throughout the trip to check in on our sadness, frustration and overwhelm and help each other cope.
4. We helped each other utilize our helpful coping mechanisms.
We encouraged each other in taking breaks, going outside, eating well and resting. We took mutual care of each other in this way. Our walks and time outside helped us both. Even the outings to the grocery store for supplies provides a much needed break from the intensity of what was happening inside. We did so for our respective attachment styles and coping skills, adding to feeling seen and understood.
5. We expressed gratitude to and for each other. Frequently.
He was thanking me often for my support to him and his family. I was sharing my gratitude to get to be with him through this and for allowing me to help, and for his many sweet gestures through out the weekend. Again, using our knowledge of each other these gratitudes were offered in the ways that feel most meaningful to each of us.
These are practices we have learned use in our daily life, but have not always been so good at. We have struggled through many times where we run up against not doing any or all of these, and find ourselves in trouble.
Through this stressful situation we knew to turn the dial up to compensate for the struggles we knew we would be in. These strategies were powerful and meaningful, and though this experience could have pulled it apart, our care brought us closer.
We are home again for the next few days.
While we are both tired, we are closer than when we left. We feel like a team and have confidence and appreciation for the moments like that that show us what we can do when we support each other mutually and with clear and conscientious care.
How do these situations go for you?
Which of these skills are easy for you and which are a struggle?
What does this bring to mind?
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If you want to learn more about how to develop these skills for your relationship, apply to join the Fire It Up Marriage Accelerator. Enrollment opens to the public on April 1. The program begins April 12. Don’t wait!