The other day my husband and I were stocking up on some items at Target, and he grabbed a Cherry Coke from the freezer on the way to the checkout. We hardly ever drink soda, but I figured, “why not” and got myself a bottle as well.
Usually we try to get different kinds of things like dessert, meals, drinks etc. because we like to try the other’s and share. However, I wanted my own soda all to myself, so I opted for Cherry Coke, too.
Fast forward to about an hour later. We were home, and my husband finished his Coke while I hadn’t even cracked mine open yet. He picked it up off the table next to me, cracked it open, and took several big swigs.
“Hey! That’s my Coke!” I said.
“We’re married. What’s yours is mine, babe.” was his cheeky response.
It’s true that when you marry someone, so much of your life: houses, kids, money, food, etc.– falls into the “what’s yours is mine” category.
But what about stress? What about anxiety?
For a long time, whenever my husband was struggling emotionally or mentally with stress around his job or a tough career decision, I approached the situation with a “what’s yours is mine” mentality.
If he was upset with his boss at the office, I was upset with his boss.
If he was anxious about which post-doc to choose, I was anxious about which post-doc he should choose.
My Piscean, enneagram 4 empathic pores were wide open, ready to absorb and internalize all of his miserable feelings and emotions like a sponge.
I thought that in being so absorbent, I was helping the situation. I believed that by being equally upset, frustrated, anxious, or depressed, I was somehow sharing his burden.
Unsurprisingly, this approach of mine always backfired. Instead of making him feel better, it always made things worse because now instead of one unhappy husband, we had one unhappy couple. We would both be down with no one around to pick us back up.
As a result, my husband stopped confiding in me because he didn’t want to make me upset. This would also always inevitably backfire. He’d be upset, so I’d be upset, and the vicious cycle would continue.
It wasn’t until about a year ago when I finally figured out why we kept going in circles, and it was when I watched our wedding video.
When my husband and I got married, we had his brother do a reading from “All I Really Needed To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum.
We chose it because we wanted to keep things light, and we also wanted to pay homage to my teaching background and the fact that my husband had recently completed his Doctorate after literally spending his entire life up until that point, in school.
In the second stanza of the poem, the first line is, “share everything.”
Five lines down, in the same stanza is the line, “Don’t take things that aren’t yours.”
In being a sponge to my husband’s feelings, I wasn’t sharing. I was taking things that weren’t mine.
When my husband is going through a hard time with stress, disappointment, or failure, it is his job to share by communicating his feelings. But that’s just the thing; they are his feelings, not mine. As much as I want to, I cannot absorb his pain away.
Instead, I can share the task of lightening his burden by helping to brainstorm solutions, listening, taking care of more things around the house, and being a stable partner.
Personally, I no longer believe that marriage means “what’s yours is mine.” It’s important that each party is able to maintain their own individual possessions whether those possessions be feelings, stress, or a Cherry Coke. In doing so, we are able to create necessary boundaries to ensure that there is a healthy balance in the relationship, and instead of simply taking, it means we have to share.