Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting Past the Storm…The Not Quite Perfect Marriage

There are two well known artists that I follow on Facebook; a married couple. They are probably in their 70s now and have been together forever. When I see photos of the two of them, even though I've never met them in person, I am struck by the absolute certainty that they are still deeply in love. You can see it in their faces and in their body posture. The way one looks at the other when the other is not aware of it. They always seem to be touching in some manner. A calm energy flows between them and you can't help but be emotionally moved by it. I find myself smiling uncontrollably when I see these photos.

I told my husband that I hope we live that long and I hope that will be us. His response was that it is us now...but we haven't been together forever. We've only been married since December of 2012. You might think that leaves us still in a honeymoon phase, but when you marry someone at age 45 it's very different from being married in your 20s. It's also very different when you marry someone who has chronic illnesses. This is the second marriage for each of us. His first ended in divorce. My first ended with sudden death. When you are young and dating, you are still trying to figure out who you are. You are going to grow and change in the years to come. What you want now may change drastically 10-years from now. Ed and I already had decades of life experience, relationship experience, which shaped us and sharply defined our needs. We both knew what we wanted out of a relationship, what we had to give and found we were a good fit. That may not sound romantic, but at some point the initial physical attraction wanes and a deeper love has a chance to take hold, but only if it's built on common ground and respect.

"Hope Burns Bright" 6"x6" Acrylic $260 by Rebecca Zook

Recently in a chronic illness group, someone asked if anyone else had had a spouse leave them after they got their diagnosis. I figured there would be some of course, but was astounded by the percentage of people in this group that had that very thing happen and these weren't all newly married young people. Some had been married for 10 or more years and the spouse couldn't deal with the ways in which an illness changes the dynamic of day-to-day life. The element of uncertainty that it injects. Many refused to acknowledge the illnesses calling them hypochondriacs and claiming they could get better if they wanted to. That this was all for attention. Those who had been left had given up on finding love again. Feeling damaged and that it wasn't even worth trying. I was deeply saddened. A few people chimed in about their relationships that had survived and thrived in spite of the health challenges, but not many.

The strongest aspect of my marriage is communication. It's the cement that holds every other piece of our relationship together. It's vital, essential. Without it, we would crumble. We both have chronic health issues. There are times when one of us is unable to complete necessary tasks around the house or when we are selfishly licking our own wounds dwelling in a bout of self-pity and aren't thinking about the needs of the other person. That's a difficult state to get past. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself and the unfairness of the situation. You are hurting and exhausted and just want to curl up inside yourself and block everything out. Satisfied, at least temporarily, to merely exist. Sometimes that is all you have the energy to do. The other person feels rejected and can pull away as well to protect their own feelings. It can easily spiral out of control into resentment and get more difficult to reach out with each passing day. Not wanting to expose yourself to the potential of more emotional pain.

It's amazing what a kind word can do. Trying to understand the other's pain, without blame, offers a lifeline. A possibility of escape and can begin to pull them out of the dark void. Remember that when you are the one that is sick, you don't get to discount the people around you. They need to feel loved and taken care of every bit as much as you. They need to feel appreciated. I've found that doing things for others works wonders for my self-esteem and makes me feel like I matter. Even if it's something small. My husband shakes off appreciation and compliments, but I'm not going to stop giving them. I need to say how much what he does means to me and whether he admits it or not, he needs to hear it. When I thank him, he always says, "We're partners, right? You'd do the same for me." He says it with such conviction that I feel like we could do or survive anything as long as we have each other. He's already nursed me through 3 surgeries and breast cancer in addition to dealing with my Primary Immune Deficiency and autoimmune issues. Equal partners, that is key, with a great deal of respect for each other.

He also said, "I know our relationship isn't perfect, but it's pretty close." I think anyone who believes they has the "perfect marriage" is deluding themselves. We argue. We say stupid things to each other. We can be selfish. In the end though, we always listen to each other and more importantly, feel like the other person has truly heard us. We apologize and move forward. We share the joy in each other's accomplishments and provide encouragement. We cherish the small moments because we know all to well that you never know when they are going to be the last moments.