If you are in a relationship, then you have experienced adversity. Challenges and struggles that have stretched you beyond what you thought possible. For some of us, the pain of these challenges have been the breaking point in our love, and we separate. And for others, the adversity we experienced has had a traumatic effect on our love, perhaps breaking trust, but not in a way that we felt the need to leave. But for some, the challenges and struggles have actually made them and even their relationships stronger. How is this possible?
On a recent redeye flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, I had an unforgettable experience. Before the plane even took off, I was settling into my seat, adjusting my bag and travel pillow, preparing for my much-anticipated snooze lasting till we landed in O’hare early in the morning. As my eyes began to blissfully close, a violent snoring blast pierced my ears (and brain) from the man sitting directly behind me.
I immediately snapped to, and turned around to peer between the seats, verifying my worst fears. Yes, this man was completely passed out. And yes, he had the loudest snore I had ever heard.
Lest you think it was “just me,” the entire area around this person began lighting up with stewardess-notifications, as we all were in a state of shock at the level of disruption we were facing for the long journey home. Although two flight attendants arrived, they sadly informed all of us that there was “nothing they could do,” and that airline regulations prohibited them from waking a sleeping passenger without due cause. Evidently, snoring wasn’t on the list.
Still in shock, I angrily sat in my seat, wondering how I was going to survive not just the flight, but the next day at work, and beyond. But then something amazing happened. The man in the seat next to me started chuckling, and put his head back to go to sleep! I looked at him incredulously and joked “Good luck getting any shut-eye with that blow horn behind us!” To which he replied – “That’s nothing! I served in the Marines – I can literally sleep through anything! G’night!” and he promptly fell asleep – soundly.
At that point, I couldn’t decide what I was more upset about – the fog horn behind me, or the sleeping man-baby next to me! I then spent the entire 5-hour flight trying to decide.
When I finally landed, I had learned a life-altering lesson that I’d like to share.
In our efforts to achieve success in life, we are programmed to learn from our mistakes and our challenges. From each failure, from each thwarted success, from each difficulty, we transform into the kind of person that “won’t make that same mistake again,” and can handle anything that comes our way.
Yet, the irony is that while failure and difficulty ultimately lead us to success and wisdom, we often take the opposite road as a result of our obstacles and disappointment – despair.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in our relationships – specifically, within our marriages. We tend to view each argument, disagreement and fight as another sign that we are not meant for each other – that somehow Gd must have mixed up our “soul-mate” with somebody else – that we just don’t have what it takes to make this work. We lapse into despair and sadness, begrudging the universe for our misfortune, and begin fantasizing about a way-out.
Yet often times, the opposite is true. You are specifically with this person – you yourself chose this person – because it is only through this relationship that you will become the best, most loving & giving version of you. It is only through the challenges that you will face, and be forced to overcome, that you grow.
Only she knows how to press all the right buttons, at exactly the perfect time.
Only he is able to miss all the clues you are endlessly giving about your true feelings.
And yet, around the corner from these difficulties, lies not just a better relationship. No – much more. Around the corner is a new you.
A you that is able to see through your pain, into hers.
A you that has made it to the top, and can now reach down and help her climb the summit as well.
A you that no longer needs consolation, but instead becomes a source of comfort, confidence and inspiration to you and your loved ones.
A you that, from a position of leadership, knows how to lead.
Because it is precisely through the journey of becoming “that kind of man” through these experiences that empower you to stand head and shoulders above where you once were. These experiences – challenges – are not just the building blocks of your long-term relationship. They are the building blocks of you as an individual. They cannot be skipped, missed, or skirted. They are part of what it means to becoming a more complete, capable person.
I can only imagine the difficulties, pressure and uncomfortable situations that ex-marine must have faced during his service. The long sleepless nights, the brutal conditions, and the unbearable fear. But unlike everybody else on that plane, even though he looked like us – he was nothing like us. He was fully capable of laughing his way through the stumbling blocks facing the rest of us, and close his eyes and rest. He was a transformed man, and all the better for it.
So too, you and her, on your journey together – growing, living and loving – transform yourselves and your love. Some say that the new you – the new couple – was the purpose of the journey from the very beginning!