We had never seen such fierce conditions on a sailboat before. And it was scary. But it was a good teaching moment. It’s important to not let fear ruin your relationship
First Scary Day On The Water
We had been taking sailing lessons at our local sailing club all summer. But most days on the water consisted of “bobbing and baking.”
In fact, conditions were often calm enough for us to take the sails down and swim alongside the boat in Cayuga Lake’s chilly water.
But now it was October. The sky darkened threateningly. And the wind gusted into the 20s.
Taking Turns Being Scared
We obviously had too much wind for our sails. So with Mike at the helm, I crawled onto the cabin top of the heeling boat to see if I could put a reef in the sail.
I had read about how to do it. But I had never done it myself. And this boat was new to us. I didn’t know where to attach the new reef point of the sail at the mast.
As the water washed over the cabin, my legs slid out from under me. I grabbed onto the mast and held on tight—it would be a long swim to shore in the rough waters.
Was I scared? Not really–I had more important things to worry about, like staying on the boat. But Mike hated seeing me sliding around on the cabin. I could hear the panic in his voice while I assured him that I was fine and would keep trying to figure out how to reef the sail.
Eventually, I gave up. Our best bet was to simply get the boat back to the dock with all the sails flying.
With every gust, the boat heeled over hard. And in the protection of the cockpit, I felt freaking scared.
While Mike steered toward the dock, I held on in the center of the boat, anxious to get home. I wasn’t very helpful. All I wanted was to walk on solid ground.
But with me safe in the cockpit, Mike’s fear disappeared. He simply concentrated on keeping the boat on course.
Obviously, we made it home. And once we docked, the manager of the sailing center showed me the hooks where I needed to attach the sail after reefing it.
But our first experience in scary (for us) weather taught us things we’ve needed to know in even scarier conditions since we’ve moved on board. (FYI–nowadays we barely blink at the thought of winds in the 20s.)
Dealing With Fear
Since that day on a light sailboat in an inland lake, we’ve experienced much scarier experiences.
And we have not let fear ruin our relationship. At least not yet.
Here are some helpful tools to keep fear from ruining your relationship.
Talk about it first
You won’t always know when a scary moment is coming. But sometimes you will.
We were anchored with nearly a dozen other boats at the Cumberland National Seashore in Georgia when the weather forecast predicted a strong storm.
The last place you want to be in high winds is surrounded by other boats. We talked it over. And together we decided to move to another anchorage farther up the island with more protection from the wind.
Shortly after we dropped the hook, the storm hit.
With sheets of rain and hail hitting the boat and winds heeling us over, I felt like a frog in a blender. We couldn’t see the shore that was a short distance away. But we both knew that if we dragged anchor we’d feel it before we saw it.
Luckily, talking through our options before moving the boat stripped some of the tension from the experience. Admitting we might find ourselves in a scary situation put us both on the same page. And we spent more time getting ready for the storm than sniping at each other as an unhealthy expression of anxiety.
In fact, our storm prep became another tool to protect our relationship from our anxiety.
Control what you can
On our first windy day on the water, Mike was most scared watching me fumble around on the deck. I was most scared sitting in the boat while he took the helm.
The less control you have over a situation the more scared you feel.
So couples who are traveling together need to share responsibilities. If one partner is mostly in charge, the following partner will experience more fear.
But taking control of your situation will help you feel less fearful. And less fear (and a feeling of partnership) will help your relationship.
Play to your strengths
While it’s important for full-time travelers to understand all the tasks of the nomadic life, some people will have greater strengths. And when things get tense, there’s nothing wrong with playing to your strengths.
When docking in a crowded marina with a strong current, Meander does far better with Mike on the helm. He knows how to make strong moves.
If we’re somewhere getting detailed and specific instructions, I’m better at the helm. I can take in information from different sources without getting overwhelmed.
So yeah, it would be nice if my partner and I had equal competence in every aspect of cruising. But since we don’t, playing to our strengths is one way to lower the tension in a stressful moment. And, by extension, protect our relationship from our feeling scared.
Finally, I’ve discovered one tool that is most important for keeping fear from ruining your relationship.
Understand how your partner shows fear
I frustrate my husband when I sound anxious. He frustrates me when he gets angry.
But we’re just expressing our fear in different ways.
Sure, it’s not nice to hear someone yelling at you. But it’s much easier to take once you accept that anger is just someone’s way of expressing their fear.
And maybe my husband won’t take my anxious chatter so personally if he comes to accept it as my way of expressing fear.
In truth, the best way to express anxiety is to say, “Okay, I’m scared. So don’t take me too seriously if I don’t express myself the best way.”
But for some reason, we get the message that we should hide our fear (I suspect this pressure is particularly strong for men). And then our fear leaks out in less healthy ways.
Maybe the first step is to acknowledge that we show fear in different ways and forgiving each other for when it leaks out badly. It’s certainly better for our relationships.
Don’t Let Fear Ruin Your Relationship
When you’re living as a nomad, you rely more heavily on your partner than you did when you had a stable home. And with ever-changing circumstances, you’re more likely to be afraid.
Yes, you’re gonna get scared. Just remember, do not let fear ruin your relationship.