Anyone who has been married or in a long-term relationship knows that there are days when the work is hard. Sometimes it’s not that anything is particularly wrong, but the busyness and the pace of life can wear you down. A few weeks ago, my husband, Ed, and I had one of those moments.
As we are getting older, we are trying to be more on top of our health, especially doctors' appointments. One evening we got some surprising news about my husband’s health—not anything truly concerning but something that required attention and intention. Health issues, I realize, trigger my own anxiety, so I began reacting out of that place. I started asking question after question, which was clearly not the most helpful thing to my husband, who was processing this new piece of information himself. At a certain point, my questions wore him down, and he lost it, directing all of his anger and frustration toward me.
Now anyone who knows me knows I’m not scared of confrontation. The younger me would have yelled right back and told him quite obnoxiously what I thought of his response. However, wisdom is certainly one of the gifts of aging. There was something that told me that the best response here may be no response. I stayed calm, didn’t say anything, and continued with getting dinner ready. There must have been some Holy Spirit somewhere in the house because, people, trust me when I say—THIS IS NOT ME!
Instead, I thought, “What could I do to help and not hurt?” This is not to say that I am advocating not to talk about issues. Communication and resolution are the foundation of a strong relationship, yet we also need to discern the best time to talk, or what we say will go unheard and can even escalate conflict.
I know Ed’s love language is Acts of Service. He is a doer and appreciates when others do thoughtful things for him. I also know that Thursdays have always been his long day in the OR. He leaves the house by 6 am and often has a 12-14 hour day and comes home starving because he rarely has time to eat lunch. That evening I went to bed not saying a word to him, but at 5:30 am I got up, made him a sandwich, and left it with some fruit in a container on the seat of his car with a note that said, “So you don’t come home starving.”
It wasn’t much, but it was enough to take down a wall that had been built over the last 24 hours, which allowed us to begin to genuinely talk. He was touched by that small gesture of thoughtfulness. I can honestly say I have never in our 20 years responded to an argument like that—but it was a realization of how powerful showing love can be in those moments. Now every week I try and make Ed lunch on Thursday mornings to take with him to the OR. It is a reminder to me that the little things have great power to change the course of our lives.
So that’s my thought for this week: When you are frustrated with your partner or your child or your friend—make the sandwich.
Find something that is meaningful to them and do it. Invest in your relationship when it makes no sense. It just might lead to a turning point both for the relationship and even more so for you.