by Jessica Martin-Weber
This past weekend was rough for our family and as we continue to deal with the aftermath of some trauma two of our children experienced (separate incidents and we’re not ok but we’re ok, just not at a place where we can share publicly about any of it- one was a very physical trauma, the other more emotional), Jeremy and I have had a choice:
To draw together or to withdraw from each other.
Stress is high, the emotional impact of this time has everyone in the family more on edge. Tempers flare easily, difficulty focusing, trouble sleeping, and just a general sense of anxiety. There’s a temptation to play the blame game, to lash out, to attack, and to get defensive back. Listening, really listening and hearing each other is challenging.
We are not communicating at our best, any of us. Including Jeremy and me.
The details of our current stress are unimportant, things come up all the time in family life. We’re not strangers to the family stress and trauma. It could be anything, a child doing poorly in school, a child’s behavior issues that impacted someone else, a health crisis, a financially difficult time, legal trouble, a major appliance breaking, job challenges, etc. Any event that causes trauma.
It takes work in times like this to communicate well. Understanding, compassion, lots of grace, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt are crucial. Understanding trauma and secondary trauma helps us some but we have to actively work to be cognizant of that in order to find the patience for each other. And to hold space for each other’s hurt and stress along with how that impacts how we communicate and relate while still holding each other accountable, not excusing being hurtful.
Prioritizing those that were hurt directly is critically important. We also have to recognize the strain that puts on the family and our couple dynamic.
We’ve experienced this before, in various situations and circumstances and have been together long enough to know what’s going on. That doesn’t make it less challenging, just less of an unknown process. There is a lot of effort going into caring for each other well through this.
Some of what helps us in times like this:
Frequent checking in about how we’re doing. It is easy to focus on the children, the more vulnerable and those impacted directly and we should do so first. But making space to check in about how we’re processing as the care givers is essential for balance and wellbeing.
Acknowledge the stress we both are under. Name it. Validate our different experiences and don’t critique our feelings.
Look out for each other – this only works if it is mutual. When one party looks out for the other but the other doesn’t look out for them, there is imbalance which will lead to increased burn out, resentment, and isolation. When we both look out for each other though we can both be cared for.
Give each other the benefit of the doubt – assume the best, not the worst. Understand that we’re giving stress responses rather than our true authentic self responses. Don’t excuse hurtful comments and reactions though, acknowledge what’s going on without taking things personally.
Do not play the blame game. This doesn’t mean we ignore personal responsibility but we’re not looking to place blame, we’re looking to understand, learn from the experience, and take the appropriate and steps for healing and protection as necessary.
Hold each other accountable. Gently. “When you said ABC, it sounded like XYZ, and I felt this way” along with active listening can help us address hurt in ways that aren’t attacking and give us the chance to do better.
Allow for space. Sometimes we need to be alone. To have space to let our minds and hearts process. That may be sitting on the front steps alone hiding from the kids, it may be going to a coffee shop or shopping or for a run or even just hanging out on devices not talking to each other but in the same room. Whatever it is, needing space doesn’t mean not wanting to be with the other, it just means that we may not have the energy to process and connect with each other in that comment. Plus, taking time alone can help with the last point:
Draw together and identify what may make that challenging. Reaching for each other rather than other substitutes (this doesn’t mean we don’t have others in our life supporting us, just that we are first for each other) and prioritizing how to do so in ways that strengthen us turns what could be an experience that would drive a wedge between us into an experience that deepens our connection.
We will make it through this time together and while we would prefer not to have to make this journey, we know we will and our relationship as well as our whole family will be stronger on the other side.