Eric is in the season of dissertation. A few years ago, he approached me about returning to school for his doctorate. Though it did not surprise me (as he lives to collect knowledge and pass it on to others), I did have my concerns. Quickly my mind returned to our days in graduate school when we were both working and stressed to our limits (and FYI, going to school together does not bond a couple in the ways we were hoping it would at the time ~smile~). However, he needed the challenge and I suspect always planned to complete a doctoral degree at some point in his life. He gave in to his academic itch, as he called it, and reentered the realm of higher education. The class portion of his studies was challenging but my brainiac husband handled it well. He barreled through his courses and then reached his last hurdle – the dreaded dissertation.
These days have been and continue to be noticeably hard on him. He still has his previous responsibilities and now a mammoth project which is always on his mind. There is no doubt he can and will do it. Eric is a finisher and a strong finisher at that, but he is still human. He has needs and has limits; and sometimes it is hard to remember because I have come to know him as a superhero.
As he goes through this process, I often feel a bit helpless. There is nothing I can do to make this project go away or finish faster. There comes a time for all spouses when your partner goes through something you cannot control. Work related issues, extended family dynamics, school pressures, health problems – we never know what is coming when we promise for better or for worse. In those moments when you feel like a helpless bystander, there are ways you can encourage your significant other or spouse and ways you can lessen the burdens in his or her life.
- Be careful how and when you question your partner. Sometimes stress can cause a well-meaning inquiry to sound like aggressive nagging. “Are you working on your dissertation today?” might come across as a simple question on Tuesday after a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee, but at the end of a stressful week could be interpreted as “Get off the couch and get to work!” Take notice of his or her mood and current irritants before you start asking questions. And, sometimes it is better to cheerfully ask, “What does your schedule look like today?” And then you can follow up with offers to help, if possible. Too many questions, poorly timed questions, or questions with unclear intent can add to the pressure.
- Offer the help you can. You may think you have nothing to offer the problem, but you might be able to help. Ask just in case. Occasionally, Eric has me do small jobs which make his overall process run more smoothly. It may not seem like much at the time, but it does make a difference and shows your special someone that partner is not an empty term in your relationship.
- Do something to lighten the load. Even if you cannot directly affect the stressor at hand, there is likely something you can do to help ease the overall load. It may help to declutter your partner’s mind if you wash the dishes, run an errand, do some laundry, or clean the kitchen. Instead of waiting for your partner to ask, find something which needs to be done (bonus points if it is something he or she normally does) and do it. Plus, being productive while he or she is being productive shows a sense of camaraderie.
- Check your attitude. There is a reason Proverbs talks about nagging women:
- “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” (Proverbs 21:9, ESV)
- “It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.” (Proverbs 21:19, ESV)
And, the men are not off the hook. Though it is not as prevalent among men, some can be prone to nagging or excessive worrying as well. One of the greatest ways to support your partner is to be pleasant. Do not whine; be gentle and smile; be a welcoming place to land; have encouraging words available; remind him or her of the good days to come and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel; max out his or her love language, especially in times of stress; give more hugs than usual; keep the house cleaner than usual; and, up your gift-giving game.
- Shield your partner from the world. As much as is possible, make it possible for your significant other or spouse to work in peace. This can be as simple as taking care of the dog, occupying the children, answering the door/phone, and responding to other people on his or her behalf. You most definitely need buy-in before taking on these responsibilities (for some, taking over correspondence would cause them more stress). But, as much as he or she is comfortable, position yourself as a protective barrier from outside stressors. And, try not to be hurt if your partner needs you to make yourself scarce from time to time.
- Approach the throne of God for your person. “I will pray for you” feels like a cliché people say when they do not know how to respond. That is often the case, but when God’s people approach Him with pure hearts, He hears and He acts (though not always in obvious ways). “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16b, ESV) Every day, pray for your significant other or spouse – for strength, wisdom, inspiration, clarity of mind, favor from others, productivity, and sweet rest.
Your partner has (or will have) a desire worth chasing. It may be hidden, or it may be all he or she wants to discuss. Either way, go on that journey and take that risk with your person. Help him or her unearth hidden dreams and accomplish them. Avoid the temptation to respond negatively when the subject comes up… again… and again. We do not seek out marriage because we want another warm body in the house. We want someone to go on our journeys with us, witness our lives, and accomplish goals with us.
You have the power to be a huge blessing and an invaluable member of his or her team. With that said, I need to do some dishes! Eric feels so much more at peace when our kitchen is clean.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, ESV)
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV)
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10, ESV)
What are three simple ways you can lessen a burden for your boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancée, or spouse this week?