My husband was scheduled for spinal surgery. His surgeon made it sound like a quick outpatient procedure and my husband bought into it, mostly because he wanted to believe this surgery will not disrupt his normal routine. But this was SPINAL surgery so the reality was far from the spin.
We live such busy stressful lives that no one wants to accept that we might need to take real time off for something. So a week before his surgery I heard my husband assuring his boss that he would be able to get some work done mere hours after he is out of surgery. I asked my 16-year-old daughter to take the day off from high school to be with him and her response was “I cannot afford to take the day off”. Since when did 16-year-olds have mission critical jobs? I was no exception. I agreed to do a presentation to a group of moms with pre-school children two hours after my husband’s surgery began. I figured I could “zip him” over to the surgical center, drop my daughter off at her school, zip down to the presentation way south of town, and be back at his bedside by the time his groggy self was re-emerging into consciousness.
The talk I was going to give was all about how parents need to make time for their relationships, no matter what else, if they want to have a flourishing marriage. The irony hit me when I was at the surgical center waiting for my husband to be prepped for surgery. Was I really going to tell other moms to protect their marriages by giving time and attention to it all the while abandoning my husband in spinal surgery? Was I going to show my daughter that work comes before marriage and reinforce the message she is already receiving from her peers and teachers?
I am grateful that I have a community of colleagues who support my passion for healthy relationships because I called on my associate, Carrie Hallam, at The Center for Relationships and she said yes without hesitation to doing my talk. I was then able to settle into the chair in the reception area of the surgical center and focus on sending love and healing thoughts to my husband going through a stressful experience in the next room. Maybe he did not know I was there for him but I knew. I was honoring a value I hold very dear and taking time out of my life, no matter how busy it was, to stay close and give all my attention and care to the most important person in my life.
Sometimes moments of crisis and chaos are our best teachers because they awaken us to the reality of our choices and offer opportunities to live from a place of integrity.
So my humble plea to you is this: make time for caring in your hectic pressured life. Make time for caring for yourself as well as your loved ones. Don’t plan on racing in at the last minute and just barely being there. Be there with all of your heart and mind. Nurture close caring connections because in the end that is the only thing that might matter. The research on this very clear: having caring loving people in our lives who value our needs and can be emotionally present when we need them is absolutely critical to our health and happiness. Loving presence from a spouse or intimate partner can help us survive and heal from surgery faster, it helps actually reduce the pain we feel, it can help us avoid mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and it can protect our health so that we live 20-30 years longer with a higher quality of life. Loving relationships is a primary protective factor in almost every physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimension.
As I write this, my husband is in the post-op recovery room. I am feeding him ice chips, watching tv together, and gently rubbing the stiffness out of his muscles. We are sharing a life intimacy that we will both remember for years. I am so glad he is sharing this moment with me and not the nursing staff, no matter how nice they are.
Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D., Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and National Marriage Seminars and Licensed Clinical Psychologist, has been a Certified Gottman Therapist and Workshop Leader since 2006. She is the founder of the Austin-based Center for Relationships (@ctr4relships). Follow her on Facebook at the Center for Relationships and on Twitter @VagdeviCGT.