When expectations and assumptions explode in a fine mist, hold tighter.

This past year comprised new jobs, lost jobs, illnesses, kids leaving the nest, financial maelstroms, juggled routines, emotional backlashes, outbursts, disappointments, multiple medical procedures and a major surgery. All while our deepest core-rattling fears breached the surface of our coupledom.

And here we still stand in the rubble of our lives. Tentatively trying to build again. One block balanced on top of another. The building blocks of our lives on some kind of crazy loop; we would start a small tower again and again until clatter(!) they’d spill all over the floor. A smear of ruined rejuvenation once more. If we were to rewind this year, that’s what you would see, cursing at the tumbling, infernal blocks and a whole lot of crying, yelling, pacing and frowny faces.

I am proud of us anyway … balanced on top of the remains of what we built. Expectations, assumptions, a cozy, double-garage, 3-bedroom predictability. All blown to a fine mist.

Life’s grenades lobbed at us.

We had to learn how to get past our mad-dog fighting, you might too. In How to Survive in the 21st Century: Weathering Your First Cataclysmic Couple Fight, I wrote about the steps you can take to get back to solid ground.

We dove into the foxhole for a while, until we didn’t want to live there anymore. We found, emerging from it all, a new quiet confidence, an expectation of a different ilk. The advent of the oh-you’re-tired-ima-let-it-slide understanding. The I-know-you-didn’t-mean-it attitude. These are the Band-Aids.

Learning gentleness when it is not taught in survival mode, or if it has not been demonstrated at all in your life, especially during your formative years, is truly the work of metamorphosis sweeping you into its miracle. When you regard your partner in a different way, not just as a means to your end, but as a separate, feeling being, your epiphany leads to deeper engagement for both of you. When your coupledom gets on board, the implications become less inanimate object, and more passageway-to-lead-you beyond your current cognizant understanding of who you are together.

So we’re giving each other a break and believing the best of us is alive as we stagger and reel from one life-altering moment to the next. Being kind and reaching for an extra hug, or cheek nuzzle as we encourage each other in work and play. It’s what was missing as we tried so hard to stay above the white caps, the spray pounding our faces until we resembled a couple of drowned alley cats. We were drowning, sentinel to what was individually ours and trying to retain our separate goals while we forgot about working together, and remembering why we are together. I don’t even know what we were so insistent about, just clinging to cling. Clinging because a dim shape to grasp appeared, and it seemed like we should hold onto it, when the best thing to do was let go and free float in the stream as one. We have this saying the two of us, my Otter and I, we hold hands when we sleep like an unbeatable otter duo. (Even if we’re only doing it in our minds). You’ve seen the meme. It understandably applies to us. So we clung. Even as the frigid temperature of the water knocked the wind out of us, we clung. Finally. To each other.

It worked. We crawled from the aftermath, on hands and knees. We helped each other, hands extended. We stood side by side. We leaned into each other, weak and wobbling, united. Then we marveled. Over us and our power. We had ingested pain and misery, had suffered and felt the other’s agony and terror. We had heard and endured hurtful tantrums, yet we stayed and stood and triumphed over every circumstance.

We’re gentler now, and realer in some ways too. A long time ago I said I had waited so long to feel this miserable, and then some filmmaker read my mind and stole the line. It’s true. I reveled in getting there, buried beneath the the crap, and bobbing up again, knowing we had what it took to make it. In the moments of wide-eyed new love, I wondered what our memories would look like, and I’ve found out. Now we’re here to make more.

We cut each other a break and it’s a nice environment, this exception to the rule, this rare insight into the vulnerable part of each other.

Try it, when the going gets dicey. Close your eyes and think loving thoughts about your mate and the person you know they are truly. Erase the scrabbly static threatening to eclipse your sun and moon: all your history, and the he-said, she-said. Return back to your beginning and relive the reason you came together. Nothing has changed if you two are still in it, if you both want to be in the relationship trenches. So be a balm to your stressed out and hurting lover the next time plans go amiss, or an event you anticipated passes unacknowledged. Cut them some slack as you move in for a reassuring embrace. It will comfort both of you.

The other night I couldn’t figure out why I was all antsy emotionally, and then I took his scruffy face in my hands, looked into his kaleidoscope eyes and kissed him the way I had the first time. Instantly I was home again, and a warm tide rolled into my heart. I told him I missed him so much, missed him being by my side and I loved that I wanted him there. Then I sent him off to work and waited for him to come home again, calmer for the time being … a calm I needed to last through another all-nighter.

If you are craving the same kind of climate change, give your partner the benefit of the doubt. In the fiercest of storms, this is the serenity and the reinforcement you seek.

Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.

Photo: Flickr/Roberto Trm

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