What if I cope differently than my significant other?
NOTE: Daniel and Kelly speak to this question on Episode #6 of The Abel Speaks Podcast. You can listen on Apple, Spotify, or your app of choice.
One expectation to establish
First things first: you and your significant other, no matter who you are, are two very different individuals. There are great differences between men and women. There are great differences between introverts and extroverts (even if you’re the same in that), and so on and so forth.
As this journey plays itself out and you continue to process with your partner, the way that that your grief will look or manifest itself will likely look different. Therefore, the way that we try to manage and cope with what we’re walking through might also be different. And that’s okay.
Our goal here isn’t to match one another emotion for emotion and thought for thought. Our goal is to feel united and in-step with one another as a team, even when our grieving and processing inevitably looks different. With that aim in mind, we’d like to share two major ditches that we see individuals or couples collectively can fall into.
Two ditches to dodge
Kelly: We often can see parents lean towards isolation, which was the ditch I was more likely to fall into. On one side of that coin is the need for space and time to process alone. Practicing solitude can be good and healthy, in this season and any other season. But we must be aware that if we move too far down that spectrum, we begin to isolate and close ourselves off to the people in our lives, failing to allow those people to be part of God’s provision for us. If we’re not careful, that will quickly lead us to some pretty dark places.
Daniel: If the first one is isolation, the second one is busyness. Essentially, my coping strategy was to not think about things, and to not really be internally processing and wrestling. Whether professionally, socially or just through amusement and entertainment, I’d find myself seeking things that would take my mind off of the pain and uncertainty I was dealing with.
I learned (the hard way) that the busyness ditch can be sneakier than the isolation ditch, because it can take on the appearance of simply handling our ongoing responsibilities in life. Isolation is more evident – “Hey babe, you haven’t showered in four days or left the house. I love you, but I’m gonna throw the flag on that. Let’s go put some clothes on, brush those teeth, and take a walk.” For us busybodies, it can be easier not only to deceive others, but to deceive ourselves.
Ultimately, filling my mind and schedule with tasks and commitments felt like a short-term gain, but it came at a long-term cost. It cost me from personally present with what’s going on in our own hearts, and as a result, it can cost me the self-awareness required to truly be present with my wife in the valley. I ran the risk of making her believe that sitting in the heaviness and bearing the full weight of it was all on her. And if the goal is for us to feel united and in-step with one another as a team, that’s a risk that we simply cannot take.
There were hours of conversations we had about these two ditches, which gave us plenty of opportunities to grow in our own self-awareness as well as grow in our intimacy with one another. To that end, here are three practical tips that we would leave you with.
Three ways to support each other
(1) Be aware and diagnose whether you’re more prone to isolation or busyness. You can serve one another by sitting down together and having each person identify which of those ditches they’re more likely to fall into. “If I’m going to lean in one direction or the other, this is probably what direction I drift and what that looks like for me.”
(2) Be respectful of one another’s differences. As we listen and learn from one another, we must assume respect our differences and empathize with one another to the best of our ability. “I hear you saying that you don’t want to isolate, but you don’t have the same capacity for social interactions right now. I don’t feel that same way, but I want to honor and respect that as we’re presented with invitations or commitments in this difficult season.”
(3) Be responsible to help keep one another from drifting into patterns of un-health. It’s important that we give each other freedom to ask questions and check in, and that we assume the best in one another as we do so. “Hey, I just wanna check in and see how you’re doing? Are you creating the space to slow down to truly process, or are you filling your mind and your calendar to stay busy and distracted? How can I help you fight that temptation this week?” It can be a loving thing to humbly and gently lean in like this, and even push one another out of our comfort zones from time to time.
There’s freedom for things to not look identical as you process and navigate through this season with your significant other. We may cope differently from one another, and that’s okay. Even in your differences, you can be part of the Lord’s provision for one another in this journey.
Avoid the common ditches of isolation and busyness. Solitude and space can be good, but isolation never is. Community and commitments can be good, but busyness and mindless amusement never is. It’s a balance that can feel like a constantly moving target, which is why on-going conversation with one another is so needed and so helpful.
Be self-aware of which ditch you drift toward, be respectful of one another’s differences, and be responsible to check in and lean in as you pursue the goal of feeling united and in-step with one another as a team — even when the ways you process, grieve, and cope inevitably look different.