Ladies, you first! Admit it… we are complicated creatures, right? I can barely make a decision, even when the decision is directly in front of me, and already answered.
Men (well, most men, anyway) are able to take emotion out of just about every situation, which riles us up even more. I mean please tell me, I’m not alone in this?
When you really sit down and think about the process of a relationship or marriage, not only are you bringing your complicated self [sorry, babe!] into a relationship, but you’re merging with an equally complicated person, who comes complete with their own set of issues. It’s not easy. I like to call it, well, baggage. The only time I like carrying baggage is when its hassle and financially free [thanks, DELTA!].
Michael and I learned extremely quickly we communicate in two *very contrasting ways. I’m the feisty Italian as he says (I call it passionate, but whatever) whereas he’s able to compartmentalize things, and revisit the issue later. He does it in the most annoyingly passive way possible. He also revisits another room, which use to make me go INSANEEEEEEE. But then, alas, a relationship revelation: that’s his communication style. And most importantly, he always comes back.
Cue training camp. 2012, I think.
I remember our first training camp. I’m sure it comes across as a weird statement, but I remember training camp, because it was our first fight. It was the first breakthrough moment, if you will, for our relationship.
You see… many of you football fans see training camp as a time in which these big burly men are getting ready to play a game you all sit and watch on Sundays. And yes, that’s oh so true. But I plan to tell a story from the other side. And how this moment was HUGE for Michael and me.
For me, and many other wives, it was a time where we felt like we sent our significant others off to survival camp in hopes they’d come back in one piece. Literally.
Guys mostly stay on location [unless you're a veteran] whether it’s in a hotel, dorm, whatever, verses staying at home.
I remember Michael walking through the door, and mind you, this is early in our relationship, so our communication wasn’t as PERFECT [yeah, right] as it is now.
He came inside, no words, no hello, nothing and went to the couch. The TV was off, and he was just sitting there... blank staring at the TV, but probably on his Ipad.
I distinctively remember being appalled, feeling hurt and confused of why this day was so different? I’ve covered training camp before, I mean its football… it’s your job? Suck it up? Right?
So naturally I was incredibly passive aggressive about the lack of attention, trying to get him to talk to me and understand why I wasn’t even acknowledged when he walked in the door. We screamed. We fought. I ran out the door like a child to my car [which I haven’t done since], cried and he didn’t follow. He never honors tantrums and follows, which is something I’ve grown to appreciate. It’s made me see the bigger picture, and the bigger issue.
I remember fighting through a lot of tears that day and then I remember seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He apologized. He said he was sorry and that he’s never had anyone go through this time [aka training camp] with him. He was vulnerable and showed humility [not weakness] about the situation. I felt like a moron, apologized, asked myself why I went to my car and realized I needed to grow up. We soon both came to realize how we’re two different humans, with two contrasting communication styles. We're both building a relationship, and learning to overcome bumps along the way. And yes, even as young newlyweds, we aren’t naïve and understand those moments [hopefully not as dramatic and hurtful] are inevitable for the rest of our life. However, the first step in preventing those hurtful moments is acknowledging when you’re in the wrong and when you overreacted… and most importantly figuring out HOW to alleviate your emotions so you don’t find yourself back into that situation.
He’s a man, and a methodical man. He’s man of structure, and a man of routine who’s essentially had the same routine since middle school. I’m the girl new in his life; I’m new to his schedule, and new to his communication style during the toughest days of his year.
I learned compassion and empathy on that day. It doesn’t mean the other days in which he came home during camp got any easier, but I now knew how to adjust and approach a conversation. I also learned when I needed to just straight up chill, before coming in hot.
Later, I’d come to realize the man needs 30 minutes to himself to decompress before I start blowing him up with questions about his day. I also had NO idea how difficult his day really was at camp. Michael was constantly being berated about how he wasn’t good enough... how he was going to lose a job... and how replaceable he really was. He needed 30 minutes at minimum to shake it all off. I could handle that. Conversely, he learned from me I’m eager to hear SOMETHING from your day other than just “fine” [even though it wasn’t]. I simply needed to engage, when I physically hadn't seen him for days upon days. I emotionally needed that gesture. And he emotionally just needed be to be there, even if it didn’t involve words.
I know many people will never understand the extent of what training camp is all about and how it affects a relationship, or a family, but it’s difficult. And for the ones who have been through those treacherous days, the rollercoasters of emotions, I have mad respect for you, especially the moms. To draw the sentiment out even further, any time I think “woe is me”, I think about women or men whose spouses are servicing our country because that’s the ultimate sacrifice, and there’s no room for me to complain. But the point of all of this is how a moment and a really, really bad fight, made our relationship stronger and laid a stronger foundation for our future.
It was after our breakthrough "training cramp" if you will, did I recognize things in myself need to change in order for this relationship to work. I need to be patient with the process and understand I’m a new addition to this whole routine thing. It's critical to not get defensive, but understand WHY he needs space or time when he walks through the door after essentially being verbally abused day in and day out. And conversely, he recognized my needs. He recognized my need to feel loved, wanted, and appreciated, even though he was having consecutively terrible days. Don’t worry; we aced the following training camps with flying colors.
It wasn’t until I was on the “other” side did I really come to understand what these guys physically, emotionally and mentally go through during training camp. And it isn’t easy. Their jobs are on the line, nothing is guaranteed, mistakes are magnified, weaknesses are exposed, oh and whether you’re hired or fired is broadcasted for all the world to see. Also, every Tom, Dick, and Harry has an opinion. The arm chair quarterbacks are the WORST. Michael has taught me so much about mental toughness… about mind over matter. However, applying the concept is most certainly a gradual process in my life.
[Here is a great place to plug my guy Coy Wire’s book, an NFL vet, now correspondent for CNN. It’s called “Change Your Mind.”]
The guys who go through camp, better yet, make it through camp might physically fall apart, but mentally are some of the toughest [and weirdest] fellas I’ve ever been around. And ladies, be patient, they’re working on the emotional thing, and sometimes just need 30 minutes.