Saturday, June 11, 2011

What You Need? Baby, Go Get It

I'm watching the kids swim and waiting for the trophy awards and closing ceremonies for a regatta my husband has been competing in this week. He won't win a trophy, but it doesn't matter; he is proud of his crew's showing and that he fulfilled his dream of skippering a boat in a world championship race.

Before I met my husband, he travelled the world, racing sailboats professionally.  When we met, we had both returned to our hometown to work with kids in the programs and schools that launched us; he coached sailing at the local yacht club and I taught middle school at my alma mater.  He negotiated time in his work calendar to continue to pursue professional sailing opportunities and I was starstruck, following his progress in world championships and awed by my boyfriend's fame in the subculture of sailboat racing. 

Last week's six-day, nine-race regatta was the culmination of a year of preparation, including weekends practicing with his crew--weekends he fit in around work and the demands of family (and his wife).  But as I followed his progress hourly on the Etchells Worlds twitter feed each day, the pride and admiration I felt for him when we were newly in love was rekindled.  And I was reminded how important it is for us to pursue our passions and to encourage our partners to do the same. 

One of the lessons I learned early on in my relationship development--from my wise father--is that a relationship isn't a thing (a tangible object) like the two individuals in it.  And each individual has needs which may be completely unrelated to the other person.  In other words, as my father put it when I was suffering college-relationship heartache, "Everything he does isn't about you." 

I think about this a lot lately, as I watch my husband and myself and our friends in similar life phases wrestle with tending to our own needs in the context of busy parenting and working lives.  Of one thing I am certain, though, and I will shout it from the rooftops:  To be a healthy partner and parent, one must be a healthy person.  And if you want a healthy partner and co-parent (as well as a healthy relationship), tend to your own and your partner's health.  That means requesting space and time to devote to your true self, and granting it as well.  There may be nothing more important.

Ten years ago my husband raced sailboats in South America and I ran marathons.  Today, he's happy to race locally and I am More Than Fine with 10Ks.  Between now and then we learned to ask for what we need--a sleep-in here, an hour run before he leaves for work there, the occasional afternoon of fishing or night out with friends.  Still, we get off balance at times.   

Last May when I was feeling frustrated and bogged down at work as well as slightly disconnected from myself, I whined and pouted for a while, and then I called my husband to clear a weekend in October and  signed myself up for an adventure.  Anticipating an October writing retreat gave me a special lift through June, July, August, and September, not to mention the effects I still feel from treating myself to three days of writing among strangers in a magical setting

It's important to report that scheduling these events (regatta, retreat) wasn't without its challenges.  In fact, a practice regatta wound up conflicting with the writing retreat, and husband and I had a bit of a "Me Time" showdown as we discussed the terms of pursuing our interests that weekend, making sacrifices on the other's behalf, and keeping our daughters in the center.  Thanks to friends and family who offered childcare, we raced and wrote that weekend, but learned that negotiation and careful calendaring help with harmony. 

We've gotten good at the give and take, but it means shedding the martyr mantle, bringing hidden agendas to the fore, and recognizing when your own or your partner's equilibrium is off.  Because it's easy to fall into a routine--or to actually feel dragged around by the routine--of work, school, extracurricular activities, homework, laundry, cleaning, feeding people, shopping.  Meetings.  Appointments.  Add in a crisis or two and you have two parents, backs to each another, digging trenches independently, barking orders and cussing under their breath.  Sweaty, exhausted, cranky.  Maybe stopping occasionally to lean on shovels and wave faux-cheerfully at neighbors.  Who, us?  We're great!  See you at the next kids' birthday party!  You betcha. 

It's a slippery slope, so next time you bump rears with your digging partner, stop and offer her a drink.  Tell him you're going for a walk, and he can take a break next.  Schedule a date night.  Then go sign up for a hip-hop dance class; join a book club; dig out the fishing gear or oil pastels.  Of course you're tired after digging all day.  Make yourself do it.  Encourage and applaud your partner for doing the same. 

I've enjoyed watching friends and family members reclaim their passions.  I know a husband who paints and a wife who rows outrigger canoes.  I know a wife who just dusted off her sewing machine and a husband who gets up in the wee hours to bike.  I know a husband who just built a rail rider out in the desert and a wife who attended a week-long artists' workshop.  I know couples who get sitters so they can run or hike or yoga together.  I have a friend who took a cake-decorating class and a colleague who just became a master gardener.  Averting the destructive tendencies of the mid-life crisis, these friends nurtured their interests with the support of their partners.  And their kids are watching.

If you can't remember who you are or what a hobby is, look back ten, fifteen, twenty years at what you loved to do.  And if you're like me, and you aren't feeling the marathons and poetry, evolve a little.  Run and write differently.  Or find something new:  Raise chickens.  Design tee shirts.  Volunteer. 

Being proud of yourself is attractive; being proud of your partner is awesome.  Husband came in 26th out of 80 boats this week, and I think that's hot.


Kate said...

Good message...I needed to hear it. I am usually quick to accept Jared's openness to giving me "me time" and less than open to giving him some. :-)

Anonymous said...

This is dreadfully insightful to read after re-reading an email exchange the two of us had oh, I dunno, approximately one year ago. New experience, new appreciation. All the way around. Spot on. Nifty.

Melina said...

I LOVE this!

As a soon-to-be-wife I have to honestly say this is my biggest fear: losing myself in my marriage.

But I already know he supports and encourages my hobbies more than anyone. So I think it's mostly just up to me.

It reminds me of my favorite quotes by Jim Rohn (some random inspirational speaker I came across w long time ago)-

"The greatest gift you can give to somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, "If you will take care of me, I will take care of you." Now I say, "I will take care of me for you if you will take care of you for me".