Saturday, October 26, 2013

How Do You Deal With Health Issues In Your Relationship?

Have you ever dated someone with health issues? How about someone with heavy depression, anxiety, or something similar? My first long term relationship was challenged by the fact that my girlfriend had reoccurring tumors on the back of one of her legs. By the time we stopped dating, she had had 6-7 surgeries to deal with the issue, including 3 while we were together. In addition, towards the end of our relationship, her father developed some form of stomach cancer. I wasn't really equipped back then to face all of that. Perhaps it would have been different if we had a really strong connection, but we weren't the best match to begin with, and so when all the health issues cropped up, I struggled to be compassionate and supportive.

When I read this post today, I thought back to that relationship. And considered what I've learned since then.

Here's a short list of skills/qualities that I think are beneficial to sustaining healthy relationships, even when one partner is struggling.

1. Patience. It seems to me that no matter what else you do with your life, learning to cultivate true patience (as opposed to the grin and bear it kind) is essential to sustaining good relationships. One way to do this is through practices like meditation and slower forms of yoga. Another way specifically within a relationship is to pay attention to how you react to your partner's difficulties. If your partner gets sick, do you feel like your time is being wasted somehow? If your partner isn't able to go out on a fun date with you, do you feel slighted in any way? In other words, do you take things personally?

2. Impermanence. Recognizing and learning to embrace (or be ok with) the fact that nothing stays the same. Even the healthiest of folks will have days or weeks where they're run down, feeling depressed or confused, or are sick. That's all part of the deal in long term relationships.

3. Seeing health challenges as opportunities to learn. This one isn't easy. And in offering this, I'm not staying that, for example, you should stay with the person who is depressed for years for example. Or that you're obligated to become a lifelong caretaker for a partner who's increasing becoming disabled before your eyes. Many factors come into play. How long you've been together. The depth of your connection. Whether you've made a commitment (marriage or some other form) to each other or not. Regardless though, I have found that viewing health challenges as opportunities to learn has changed the way I handle illness in general. When I get sick now, I tend to accept it much faster. I slow down, and make the effort to take care of myself, and/or ask for help from others. Something I rarely did when I was younger. And this attitude spills over to when my partner gets sick or isn't feeling well. Offering support is an opportunity to grow your connection together. And being ok with not having much excitement for awhile is an opportunity to develop some more patience.

How about you? How do you deal with health challenges in a relationship?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Over-Thinking Troubled Relationships

Over at Baggage Reclaim, Natalie has a fine post from awhile back on overthinking and it's impact on relationships. This particular paragraph, early on in the piece, was really striking:

I have a friend who spent over a decade (yes you read that correctly) ruminating on her relationship. Every time we caught up about what was going on, she was trying to “work things out” or “figuring things out” or “deciding what the best thing to do is” and even “trying to avoid making a mistake”.

Having done this pattern in the past, I totally know how you can fall down that rabbit hole. Part of me knew six months into my first long term relationship that we were a poor match, for example, but I didn't have the experience and insight yet to overcome the fear of ending it and being alone. We stayed together over three years.

I have also been on the other side of this equation. Another long term girlfriend, instead of breaking up with me fully, asked for a month apart so she could "think about things." That seemed reasonable enough to me, and I wanted to give it one last shot myself, even though the previous several months had been fairly miserable. Then that month stretched into two, three, four, five months, with all of my attempts to meet her to have a conversation rebuffed. Finally, I just gave up, and moved on. And found out later that she had moved on long before I did, but for whatever reason, decided to keep answering my requests to meet with "I'm not ready to see you yet," instead of just telling me she was seeing someone else.

Over-thinking is a pattern that is self-focused. There's a shift from considering the relationship itself, to obsessing about imaginary "perfections." If you want to stay, you tend to fixate on how to make some small aspects of the relationship work really well. You think,if only we could spend X amount more time together. Or if only we could stop arguing about money. Or if only he would stop getting jealous. Or she would stop fussing over my drinking. Whatever the aspect, even if it's something major, there's a "magic bullet" quality to it. That if you just can fix this one thing, the rest will be ok.

On the other hand, if you want to leave, you tend to get focused on executing the "perfect" exit strategy. A friend of mine spent multiple years trying to catch her Ex consuming porn. Even though the relationship had long been dead, she wouldn't leave until she finally caught him. It didn't matter that they had been terribly incompatible for a long time. Or that porn use itself was little more than a symptom for a larger set of issues around sex for them. She needed this proof to justify leaving the relationship. Without that proof, she would have had to accept that there wasn't any one, easy reason for leaving. That things just didn't work out.

I'm all for thoughtfulness and spending the time needed to suss out what you really want and how you want to move forward. However, there comes a time when "thinking about your relationship" (if it's troubled) becomes a protective zone from reality.

How about you? Are you someone who over-thinks your relationships? Do you sit on the fence for weeks and months on end, wondering about the many what ifs? Have you dated people like this?