Best I Can

How do you navigate a healthy marriage when one of you is long-term sick?

I am so fortunate to have a man whose commitment to our marriage equals my own. But that isn’t just a lucky thing, there are never any guarantees that relationships will produce equal commitment. When we found each other, we were careful.  We talked explicitly about this issue.  For us, our previous marriages to others provided the common ground we needed for common understandings. We credit our equal commitment to having first hand understandings of the opposite.  We both had more commitment than our previous spouses.  Both of our marriages ended because the other half didn’t feel the same way about commitment.

So when we met, our shared language was all about what commitment really meant. To us. Did we share the same ideas as each other?  We knew we couldn’t proceed any other way.  And we found we did. But it was touch and go as to whether we would even get married.  It had seemed to us that marriage is nothing to do with the paperwork.  Broken hearts and other people’s choices had shown us just how easily you can dissolve that legal agreement.  For us, marriage was not to do with the paper at all.  Our marriage began when we moved in together.  It was sealed when our baby girl was born, and ratified when our son arrived.   So when sickness moved in, we were already pulling together; equally yoked to the beautiful burden of being a family.

My hubster is an honest fella.  He told me once that if he had known what was ahead of us, he wouldn’t have embarked on the relationship. In truth, if I had known I wouldn’t have wanted him to, either. Who would ever choose it? Who would ever want it for their partner?  For themselves?  Neither of us.  But now, he often reassures me that he’s staying. He chooses to stay committed to me, to our family. He says, in his quiet way, “I’m not going anywhere”.  And I know that he means it.  And I have agonised about whether or not I should leave him. Set him free and let him have a different life. He tells me he would be miserable without me and I know that it is mutual.  We’re a set now. I can’t pull my weight physically, financially and sometimes not even emotionally. But when it comes to commitment, we are equal. And that is the forward momentum our marriage needs.

A few years ago when we were beginning to struggle with my lessening ability to do things around the place, we had an argument. It was a big blow up.  A big release. And I realised that we needed to make another commitment to each other, so that we would know at all times we could rely on each other. We promised that we would always do our best. That is a different thing for both of us, but equal effort.  If there was something I could do, I would do it. If there was anything that was within my scope of ability, I would do it. And I have. He has too. It’s actually a brilliant rule for life.  I think, before we made that promise, he was afraid that I would sink into a chronic illness malaise and do less and less and less.  Not from lack of ability, but from lack of will.

what do you see inside my heart_i’m good

And so that is how we navigate marriage with one of us sick. We both commit equally to the marriage and we both commit equally to doing everything we can, our best, to make it work.

How do you manage your relationship in the context of your illness?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Have a listen to this stunning song by Priscilla Ahn.  Oh, that voice!

I like you.

The other day, someone told me that the best advantage you can give kids is the ability to build good relationships with other people.  They learn this from watching the relationships in their world.
What does a good relationship look like when you are parents?
It’s probably a bit different to what it looked like before the kids arrived. Like, an interplanetary timewarp, different.  Same people, different planet.  Whole new meaning for the word ‘good’.

I like you...

Pre-kids, we measured our relationship success so differently.  Gifts, beautiful meals, the occasional romantic getaway.  There was lots of physical affection, winks, nudges, eye contact and fascinating, far-roaming conversations.  We’d gaze at each other in the candlelight and congratulate ourselves on how connected we were.  Passionately in love, deeply in lust, we had gigantic doozie fights, with door slamming and name calling.  And we were proud of the fact that we never walked away from an argument without resolving it. Ah, lurve.

These days I think love has smoodged over to make room for something pretty important.  Like.  Those two together are what I call a successful relationship when you are parents.  I love you, and dammit, I choose remember why I like you, too.

Remember when you were at school and someone nudged you and said “he likes you!” and being ‘liked’ seemed like the highest form of devotion possible?  We denigrate the word ‘like’ to a much lower than ‘love’ status.  But liking your partner, even when you are sleep deprived, your boobs hurt, you disagree on dummies, and you are certain that they really don’t ‘get’ it, whatever ‘it’ is that day….actually liking them on Planet Parent can be pretty tricky.  The increase in relationship break ups is testament to just how tricky it is.

It matters that you like your partner, because your kids are a product of your relationship.  If you don’t like your partner, the message to your kids is that you don’t actually like half of what makes them who they are.  It matters that you like your partner because it is easier to parent as a team than as two people who aren’t even friends.  It matters, because when you like someone, you are kinder to them.  Kindness in human relationships is exactly what kids need to see.  The future of our world literally does depend on it.  If there is something they are doing or not doing that you don’t like, remember that it is a behaviour, not who they are.  And tell them about it!  Most of us haven’t got a clue what pushes each other’s buttons.  Talk about it before it erodes you.

The kicker about this love+like combo, is that somehow, finding a way to have both in your heart for your fellow parent matters, even if you aren’t together.  I have taught so many children whose hearts are broken because their parents marriage is broken.  It happens; often it needed to.  But not to the kids! They watch with eyes, ears and self esteem wide open as the two people who made them rip each other to shreds.  They suffer your battles on a much more personal level than you do, because they are biologically attached to both sides.  There is no escaping who they are.  But it really sucks if you are hearing your parents point out the worst of both halves of you, ad nauseum.

Find the character strengths and positive personality traits your child inherited from your co-parent.  Focus on those things when you are discussing them in front of your child. The rest of it can wait for another time when the intended audience is the only one hearing you.  I am not a big celebrity fan, but I read this quote from an love-embattled star recently “We’re parenting, and working out if there is still a relationship to salvage”.  I think it is awesome that the parenting comes first.

What does a good relationship look like when you are parents?
You know those scenes in war movies, where everyone is leaving the smoky battle field?  They’re battered and worn out, maybe an eyeball or limb is missing, they are smeared with grime, matted and messy?  They slap each other on the back and say something wry and witty.  Satisfied glances are exchanged and the grins are contagious.  They’ve won.  They did it.  Together, somehow and against all odds.  That is what a good relationship looks like when you are parents.  It’s a look between two battlers.  It’s congratulations after a day hard fought and won.  It’s celebrating the beauty you’ve created by acknowledging the good bits in each other, in front of the kids you made together.  A good relationship between parents creates good self esteem in kids.  And it is a much friendlier way to take the journey of life.  Together, with someone you like.

I want my kids to be ambitious about love and find someone to be with that they actually like!  Someone whose company and conversation brings them comfort and calm.  The very best way I can show them how to find that, is by finding it with my man, every day. If they see the way good friends can resolve conflict without hurting each other and shoulder burdens without dropping the bundle; well I think there is a good chance they will know what a good relationship looks and feels like long before they have to choose one for themselves.