My girlfriend and I went on a road trip to Indiana for a music festival. It was a 10-hour trip that took about 12 hours to complete (you know, rest stops, gas, food, etc).
When we arrived we experienced the perfect storm of bad luck:
It was windy, cold, rainy, muddy, and because we arrived at night, there was hardly any light. We were also tired from the long drive.
Those things by themselves wouldn’t have been so bad if we were checking into a hotel, but we had to set up our campsite in these conditions. That meant fighting the weather and our exhaustion while pitching a tent and assembling a canopy in high winds and rain.
As you can imagine, a tent acts like a sail in the wind so holding on to it while trying to fasten the buckles to our truck (we use a truck tent) was nearly a Sisyphean ordeal. The task was daunting, difficult, and a test of our patience with each other. When we finally got it all together, that air mattress never felt so good!
We sort of laughed about the day’s events and its volatile conclusion afterward, thinking about how crazy that everything that could go wrong did. That’s an exaggeration of course – Not everything went wrong but going through it made us feel like it couldn’t get any worse.
Have you ever had life overwhelm you to that point?
The challenge of the drive and setting up our camping space in bad weather, at night, really made us appreciate each other more. The challenge forced us to “show up” for each other and put in an equal amount of effort so that we could make it through the craziness together.
As a team, we passed the test the universe hurled our way. We braved the storm and finally got that proverbial rock pushed over the crest.
Our first night wasn’t spent waiting to sleep while thinking of bills and unfinished projects at home. It was spent sharing and bonding as we remembered all the steps it took for us to get where we were in that moment. We accomplished our mission and were now reaping the reward of rest and connection.
The rest of the weekend went phenomenally well clarifying for us that our efforts were meaningful and worth every minute of hardship.
After the weekend was over, on our drive home to Atlanta, we talked about what it was going to be like to return to the life we left just days ago: Back to the long days of work, back to a very little work/life balance, and less time to connect with each other because we’re both always so busy.
With a sad voice my girlfriend said, “For the first time on a trip like this, I don’t want to go home.”
We always appreciated coming back home in the past. It was a relief to get back to all the conveniences and comfort of home. But this particular trip gave us feelings of “something more” we hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Sure, the music festival was fun and it was great meeting like-minded people, but there was something more about this trip that brought us closer and made us see a bigger picture in our lives.
We experienced a mutual challenge that helped us connect in a deeper way.
At home, we’re lone rangers following our own paths, doing our own work, achieving our own personal successes (and failures).
That first night in Indiana however, we conquered the storm. And the rest of the weekend was our celebration of that accomplishment. We fought and won the battle together. Then we celebrated together.
I hear from a lot of listeners and readers that tell me they are in a relationship where their partner puts all the responsibility for “fixing” the relationship on them. They tell me that their partner says things to them like, “I’m fine with the way things are, you’re the one with the problem. Go fix it yourself and let me know when you’re done.”
In my opinion, this comment changes the entire meaning of the word, “relationship”. It’s almost an unrelationship.
A relationship is when you go through the ebb and flow of life together, showing up for your partner no matter what the circumstances, and tackling the challenges as a team regardless of who is responsible for the challenge showing up in the first place.
An unrelationship exists when your partner tells you to deal with your own stuff alone while they wait on a beach chair enjoying the ocean breeze. And after you finally get through the struggle in this type of relationship, your partner looks down at you and says, “It’s about time.”
Relationships are not both of you dealing with different aspects of the relationship alone. Yes, there is work to do on yourself as you will find the happiest and longest-lasting relationships are when you both bring the best version of yourself into the mix. But the relationship itself is to be worked on together, going through the good and bad (better and worse) together.
If one partner sits on the sidelines while the other one does all the work, you lose the magic and bonding that can blossom out of working through those challenges as a team. The relationship can start to lose its heart and the love can lose its steam. One partner doing all the work for two people creates an imbalance that will slowly sink the listing ship.
My girlfriend and I have a newfound respect for relationship challenges. We don’t look forward to them, but we certainly look fondly at them in hindsight. We also carry the bonding and feelings of mutual accomplishment into our future together.
Whether you’re in a relationship now or plan to be, remember that the strongest bonding moments don’t always have to be through the normal channels of loving, serving, and nurturing. They can also be through shared challenges that put both of you on the front line to tackle whatever life throws at you. When you are both putting in the effort, giving it your all, and overcoming the challenges together, the reward is intimacy and connection.
It doesn’t mean you know what to do or how to help with every issue that comes you and your partner’s way, but it can be comforting for them to know that you are going to show up in whatever capacity you can when the relationship needs it most.