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.
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!