Updated: May 6, 2020
Is there anything you wish you two would have worked on more while he was still incarcerated that could have helped strengthen your relationship once he was released?
Absolutely. We built a pretty solid foundation before he came home, but we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We had faced some tough challenges individually and as a couple and thought we had what it took to weather the storms life after prison would bring—courage, resilience, willpower and just pure grit and determination. But, in hindsight, we were naïve. Relationships are work and I wish we had been more intentional about the work. Here are some areas I wish we had focused on more:
Like any couple, Shaka and I had disagreements, but I thought we communicated well, especially given the circumstances. The problem was that we didn’t develop a strategy for managing conflict, so once he came home and the disagreements became more frequent, we didn’t know how to handle them—how to express disagreement, how to resolve the conflict, and then how to move forward. This is where couples therapy would have helped. Without sound strategies, we allowed emotion to lead and often felt unheard or misunderstood, which undermined the ways we learned to communicate while he was in prison.
He promised the sun. I promised the moon. I wish we hadn’t. I wish we had lived in the moment more and allowed our relationship to grow without the pressure to be perfect for each other. When it came to the business, we were big dreamers and had very high expectations for success, but we didn’t have a contingency plan. We didn’t discuss how we would pivot, and when, if things didn’t go as planned. Plan A had to work. When it came to the relationship, we didn’t expect to experience the problems we did, and again, didn’t have a plan for how we would deal with problems when they came. I think we expected since we knew each other so well that we’d know what the other person needed and instinctively provide it. Someone once said expectations are disappointments waiting to happen. I wish we’d been real with ourselves and each other about what we could and couldn’t do, and in turn, how we would communicate when our needs weren’t being met.
SETTING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
We were co-dependent. The rules and restrictions of prison force you to depend on each other and that’s what brings you closer. It works when he’s hundreds or maybe thousands of miles away and you can’t see or talk to each other often. But the level of dependency you have while he is in prison isn’t sustainable, or healthy, once he comes home. You will go from seeing each other for prescribed amounts of time to possibly seeing each other every day. I wish we’d had a conversation about boundaries—what worked for each of us in terms of personal space, alone time, intimacy and hanging out. I’m more of an introvert, he’s an extrovert. We knew this before he came home, but I wish we had discussed what that would look like in our everyday lives and what we needed from each other to be our best self.
We didn’t have a financial plan. We had broad, lofty goals but no clear plans, and no Plan B or C if things didn’t go as hoped. We put all of our eggs in one basket (books) and then, out of desperation, put money into whatever money-making scheme looked promising. They say financial problems are the leading cause of divorce. When you’re having money issues, it boils over into other aspects of your relationship. Because we didn’t have much money when Shaka came home, we didn’t have a plan for saving or investing or how to grow the little money we had. We lived week to week, just trying to keep our heads above water, and as a result did not set ourselves up for success once our finances improved. I wish we had done an audit of our finances and created a budget that included a savings plan, even if only twenty dollars a month to start. I think there would have been less anxiety in our relationship and made us feel more secure, which would have meant fewer arguments.
Reading back through all of these I see a common thread—having a plan. Whether it’s dealing with life’s stressors or managing your finances, you must approach the homecoming with a plan. And let me tell you, a plan is more than a vision. We had a vision. What we needed was a life planning tool that touched on the pillars of any successful relationship—good communication, sound finances, and balanced physical, emotional and mental health. Just know that no matter how in love you are, love is not enough.