I should warn my readers that the events herein were performed by advanced, expert relationshippers. I know this because I’ve spent a small fortune on therapy over the years and our couples therapist regularly tells us things like “You guys are really in tune with each other.”
Somewhere, somewhen, some person made a vague statement about how suffering together creates bonds, and it would appear that the Captain and I have taken this to heart. I am not sure that was his intention originally. In fact, as far as I can tell, he generally seems intent to reduce suffering. But the Viking in me says if we didn’t commiserate, we wouldn’t have anything in common.
Therapy teaches you how to communicate openly with adult words about your needs and desires within a relationship. It also teaches you how to hear those and respond appropriately. I don’t think we’ve gotten to that page in the workbook, yet.
So when my person courageously exposes himself to say he felt rather abandoned when I went off on an adventure without him, I took it to heart. He will not make this mistake again.
“I need to get a long hike in on Monday, do you want to come?” I ask him. I want to hike the trail to Parker Peak with a weighted pack as I prepare for the Emory Corwine Memorial Ruck Race Relay. (If you have a few friends, a pack, and time this Saturday, I highly recommend you join this adventure.)
At this point, I imagine my person is both elated at the prospect of spending a day traipsing through the woods with me and acutely aware of what that may entail. But he’s an optimist to a fault and eagerly jumped in with both feet. They would later regret it.
We’ve been on this trail before. Last year during an epic traverse of some of the Selkirks, it was our ascent to the ridge line. It is about ten miles to the ridge and 5500 feet of gain plus a little more of each to the summit. If you’re unfamiliar with those numbers we can paraphrase with: Long and steep.
That day, we had climbed all day in the heat, hit the ridge, and continued south in high country. These Selkirks are some of my favorite mountains, though I may be biased. The dramatic granite, alpine lakes, and mixed forests present everything I love about the wilderness.
This time, we would pass the ridge and bag the peak, because using hip terminology makes it sound more rad, and then descend the same way. I estimated 22 miles round trip – a long day by all accounts. So it made sense to put 35 pounds of water in my pack. If you’re already going to embrace the suck, why not push the envelope too?
We were moving at a steady clip when we spooked a bear (and subsequently realized we were awkwardly positioned between mama and the cub we’d just treed). I’m sure the adrenaline only further deepens the partner bonding experience. We trudged along for hours, chatting happily when we could spare the oxygen.
The high country brought with it fields of lupine the likes of which I had never seen: Miles and miles of purple-blanketed forests, charred black stalks of burned trees sticking out like needles into the blue sky, the occasional soft cloud of creamy colored bear grass. The mountain air was perfumed by charcoal and nectar. And not a single morel mushroom. The year before, the ground was covered with them.
A while before the summit we glanced up to see how far away (infinity) it still appeared. The Captain pulled off his pack, declared it a perfect spot for a nap, and sent me on my merry way for the view.
I am certain there is some kind of wisdom and relationship analogy in here. Like how we should accompany our partners, support them, but not personalize their own crazy missions. How both autonomy and unity are essential in a healthy marriage. And how those of us determined to challenge ourselves beyond discomfort should be grateful we have a sane human to repair the damage afterward.
When I came back down, he was napping in the shade peacefully. We ate, unloaded some of my water weight, and commenced our long, arduous journey back down the mountain. It took forever. We’d stare out at the valley below us and cringe at how far away it was as we zigzagged through the canyon, feet and quads protesting those last few miles.
“Honey, I want you to know I really value your vulnerability and heard you when you told me you felt abandoned,” I said, because I am comfortable with those adult words and can hold my own in a weekend group therapy session dedicated to personal growth and emotional intimacy. “And so I will remember, ow!, to ask you along on such excursions in the future.”
The Captain winced as he navigated over a rock then muttered something about excursioning to the sofa or theater like other (smarter) couples.
Back at the car, we celebrated our triumph and congratulated each other on exceptional performances. Maybe it isn’t about the suffering together as much as it is about the opportunity to see your partner persevere and shine. Maybe relationshipping in the great outdoors is just that: taking ourselves out of the context of daily life to appreciate the raw and basic things that brought us to love in the first place.
Grab your person. Go outside. Connect. It’s cheaper than a weekend couples retreat and you don’t even have to cry in a circle of strangers.
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