Marriage is a challenging endeavor. You pick one person to take on life with and that includes the ups and the downs. It is easy to stand at the alter and vow before family and friends on your wedding day to love and honor – in sickness and health. It is part of the deal, but the application is much harder than just saying the words.
Sometimes it can be hard to choose love continuously when your spouse is healthy, much less sick. We all have bad habits, lapses in judgement and can lack patience. So, imagine all those character deficits being compounded by sickness! I am not referring to the common cold or occasional flu, either. Because, those have an end in sight. Most of us will gladly jump at the chance to serve our significant other by nursing them back to health with soup and cuddles. In that situation, it can be easy to choose love.
What I am referring to is the beast of chronic illness. The incurable, never ending storm that becomes your life when one in the relationship falls ill. There is pain that is so abrasive that cuddles are not possible, and it can cause a divide in the marriage.
I remember when my husband and I first started dating, we would watch movies and TV a lot together on the couch. We always were entangled in each other’s arms. If we sat apart from each other, it was probably because we were in a quarrel.
My favorite time of the day was sitting down with him and having his arm around me. As I got sicker and the pain increased, I found myself not being able to lay on one side or to lean into him as easily. Our cuddles became less and less. Of all the things I have lost to my illness, this one squeezes my heart more than anything. My husband has been present for some of the most physically and emotionally painful events of my life and he cannot do anything to fix me.
For a man, that is a tough thing to accept. It must be heartbreaking to watch the person you love be in tears from pain. I rarely considered his heartache when he lashed out in powerlessness. I only thought of it as unloving at the time, when in fact it was the opposite. Then there are the late-night emergency room visits, when he is already exhausted from working his tush off to support our family. Most of the time, I cannot drive myself. So, this falls on him.
Sleep deprivation sets in and arguments flash like a match in a pile of kindling. Then there are the surgeries, doctor’s appointments and medical costs. Every time I have a surgery, my husband is my caregiver, my driver, housekeeper and cook. He wears so many hats and that can erode a relationship and person. Then, I, as the one receiving the care, can feel very guilty. I know that he does not mind doing it, because he loves me, but I do not like to put all that on him. So, when I do feel OK, I overcompensate and overdo it! It is an ongoing cycle.
I am learning to live in compassion and understanding. I want to remember that I am not the only one struggling in this relationship and that we can turn to each other instead of against each other. This was not the way life was supposed to go. This was not what I imagined my marriage to look like. I can wholeheartedly say he probably thinks the same thing. When he met me, while I was never quite well, I was never this sick. In the last two years there have been six surgeries and so many tests and procedures that I cannot even count. He has been there through all of it. He has helped dress me, feed me, bathe me, dry my tears, pick up meds and everything else in between. I hate that I need so much help, but I am glad that I need it from him.
We are still learning what normal looks like for us, now. However, we are trying to walk towards each other. Depending on the day, he’s walking, and I am wheeling. But the important thing to remember is that we are growing in this. Life is too short to fight the person you love, when what you are really angry at is the fact that one of you is sick.
So, our date nights are not traditional. We watch movies and ignore housework. We accept that each of us needs the other in different ways. We work hard at our relationship so that frustration and resentment do not fester. We choose love in moments of despair.
My husband has this funny little dance he does when I am down because he knows that it will always draw out a giggle. When I see him weary and overworked, I bake him a pumpkin pie. I try to let him know how valued he is and that his hard work is noticed and appreciated. These are all things that should be done in a relationship without illness, however, we have to emphasis the little acts to avoid big issues getting out of control.
When I envisioned what I would be like as a wife, I pictured a perfectly kept home with dinner ready each night. I pictured laundry neatly folded and put away. I pictured vacations and outings. Letting go of the way I thought things would be has been a slow and painful process. However, we are getting there. We could choose to let my illnesses break us or we could grow closer together. I will continuously choose the latter each and every time.