This is the debut post of 20 and Engaged contributor Nicole. Please give her a warm welcome.
When I got married a little over six months ago, I had this vision of how things would play out in my marriage. My husband and I had met during law school and spent two of those three years of matriculation as friends, very good friends. It was this friendship that allowed me to let my proverbial, clichéd, yet very real guard down. I rarely worried about how great I looked or if I was eating too much in his presence. He was simply my best friend. I told him everything. He was there for me and that was that. Perhaps it was the existence of that friendship that made me believe, rather assume, that almost two years later when my husband and I tied the knot, he would be everything I’d ever needed.
Five months after my husband and I wed, I gave birth to our son. The experience of pregnancy and labor were surreal and so were the events that quickly followed. During prenatal ultrasounds we had been told that the doctors saw a small cyst on my son’s right kidney but that it was nothing to be concerned about. We were told these things almost always resolved on their own. Fast forward to the birth of my son and not only was the cyst still present, but it was not on the kidney as formerly believed but on his gastrointestinal tract. What was initially explained as nothing to be worried about, quickly evolved into several hospital visits with our son being admitted twice for several night stays for “observation” and teams of doctors, residents and surgeons spilling into our son’s hospital room every few hours drilling my husband and I with the same battery of questions and varied hypothesis.
At a time when I was merely two weeks postpartum, my emotional health was at an all time low. I was overwhelmed with every scenario of what could be wrong with our son. I found the hospital stays utterly depressing, and on top of it all, I was still in a lot of pain physically as I was still contending with my recovery from labor.
One night while my husband and I were at the hospital coming to grips with the fact that our son was going to have to have surgery, I broke down. My husband looked on helplessly as I sat in the chair beside my son’s hospital crib and cried hysterically. I cried because of the pain I was in physically. I cried for my son and the pain we didn’t know he was experiencing. I cried because it all seemed so unexpectedly difficult and unending. For the better part of an hour I sat wordlessly and cried. As my sobs appeared to slow, my husband finally broke the silence and asked me what was wrong and what could he do.
I told him I thought I was depressed and overwhelmed. He sat quietly and seemed to realize I would be offering no additional insight into my mental condition. Instead, he told me I needed to take a break and asked me if I needed one of my close friends to take me out for a few hours. I nodded yes. My husband then, without any hesitation, picked up his phone and dialed a close friend of mine, explaining to her that I needed to get away from the hospital and just needed someone to talk to. That night, I did just that and felt like a new person when I returned.
As I sat in the passenger side of my friend’s car on the return to the hospital, I realized my husband have given me an amazing gift—his selflessness. At a time when he could have pressed me to reveal all that was wrong or opted to refuse to want anyone else to have a “leg up” on my most inner thoughts, he chose me over his own feelings and pride. He let me know that he knew that sometimes he wouldn’t be enough. He let me know that he couldn’t be my everything all of the time and that he loved me enough to be okay with that. When I was single, I constantly read relationship self help books, always trying to find that one kernel of wisdom that would deeply improve my dating life (as it happened, I never found that “one” piece of wisdom rather, I simply stopped dating the same type of man over and over).
During my search, I often came across chapters in which authors would discuss that a spouse/partner can never meet one hundred percent of one’s needs. Couples need friends, relatives, religion, etc. to meet different aspects of their respective needs. Although it may not have fully registered with me back then, it certainly did that night I was traveling back to the hospital. My husband knew that, despite the fact that we were best friends and frequently confided in each other, there would be times, when others whom we were close to, would be able to fulfill certain emotional needs better than we could for each other. The idea that my husband identified that I needed something or someone else for me during that moment, made me love him just a little bit more. Because he realized he wasn’t enough and he was okay with that.