Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Dislocated Shoulder -- Relationship Realignment
While hiking a steep mountain trail on vacation in Acadia National Park in Maine, my foot found the only rock with slime on it. I went down with a bang and dislocated my shoulder.
Richard and I had to hike back up to the road and hail a ride to the local hospital. Now, I've known pain, years of it. But this pain was a new taste treat and had me groaning and cursing and counting down the seconds until the nurse dripped some morphine into my vein, and then some more.
They were able to relocate my shoulder fairly easily and with that, the pain subsided.
Richard was by my side throughout -- helping me hike to the road, holding my stuff, sitting by my bed in the hospital. He was present and hugely helpful. And as the days passed and I had to learn to meet the world left-handed, he continued to be responsive to my requests for assistance and to problem solve.
He was wonderful, but I felt alone and wanted more -- and illegitimate for feeling greedy when he was trying so hard.
What was missing for me was overt empathy. At the same time I worked to be independent and do it all myself, I was a wounded bird who just wanted to be sheltered and babied. I did my best to tie my shoelaces one-handed while trying to ignore my yearnings to have my needs anticipated without speaking them aloud and to be cuddled and coddled and told that it would all be OK.
After a few days, I could no longer sustain this inner tension. I was growing weary of the strain and resentful of Richard's helpfulness without emotional empathy. We finally had a talk.
I tried to tell him what I was missing without blaming him for not providing it. I cheered his efforts at practical support and told him, as explicitly as I could, that I both accepted him and loved him, and still felt the sadness of not getting the kind of loving my injury had awakened.
He listened. And he tried to give me more emotional support. When he saw me struggle to wrap my sling around my shoulder he said to me, "I am so sorry you're having to go through this. I wish I could make it all better." His saying that made it far better for me than any attempts to help me adjust my sling.
The more I thought about the specifics of my current situation, the more I realized that the condition of being in a close relationship periodically involves the existence of a gap between what you get and what you feel you want. The gap of life.
The tricky part is not to deny the reality and legitimacy of your wants; while at the same time not punishing your partner for not fulfilling them and (and this is the trickiest bit) accepting him, with love and gratitude, for who he is and for staying in the conversation with you.
To hold both the love and the sadness, and sit side-by-side in the gap of life, together.
Do you know what I mean?