My little family, like many of yours, was hit hard in the winter months with one kind of virus or another. We missed out on a lot. It wasn’t fun. For the most part, I stayed relatively symptom-free while I watched my girls and my husband suffer. Believe me, I would not rather have been sick, but there is a part of me that wishes I could be babied and cradled instead of being the one who was constantly loading the washing machine and cleaning up who-knows-what off the floor. I know I am not cut out to be a nurse. Caring for sick people is exhausting!
The last round of the flu was pretty sad. The worst of it hit Tony and the girls on Easter Sunday. There were no pretty dresses, no brunch, no candy or Easter Egg Hunts for our family. Instead there were revolving pitchers and buckets getting rinsed out, teaspoons full of Pedialyte and apple sauce, and Clean Towel Hunts. The toddler in me wanted to stomp my foot hard on the floor, cross my arms, and declare, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” I had plenty of time to think while I cradled my sweaty babies, and the words from our wedding vows called to me over and over again… “In sickness and in health.”
The movie, The Notebook, came out before I was married. I know there was a book before that, but let’s be honest, if it’s not non-fiction, I ain’t readin’ it. If you’re not familiar, it’s the story of true love and passion, the fairy-tale of a couple who is meant to be against the odds. It’s also a story about… SPOILER ALERT… a husband who cares for his elderly wife and loves her deeply even as her memory is taken from her by illness in her later years. It is beyond touching and romantic and if you are one of our male readers on the blog, I realize I may have already lost you.
Regardless, whenever I’d thought of the classic wedding vow, “In sickness and in health,” I guess I thought it would be this romantic, long standing faithfulness of never leaving someone when they come down with cancer or blindness or Alzheimer’s Disease. I pictured holding hands on the side of a hospital bed and reading to my dear husband as he moaned in and out of consciousness. I did not picture making sure our medicine cabinet was stocked with anti-diarrhea pills and catching vomit in my hands. Fortunately, in my case, the vomit was coming out of the mouth of our youngest. Tony experienced something much less fortunate when we were first married.
About three months after our wedding, I came down with one of the worst stomach viruses I’ve ever experienced. I can hardly remember a time when I felt more disgusting or helpless. As a new wife, I was also mortified for my husband to see me this way. Tony graciously ran me a bath, cleaned up after me (I’ll spare you the details), and kept any disgust he may have been feeling completely hidden from me. At that point, I knew the “honeymoon” was over and we were really married. He had seen me at my worst and still put my needs before his own.
Since then, we have traded turns care-taking a number of times. He’s been a witness to the birth of both of his daughters. If you think birth is a beautiful miracle, let me remind you that beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. We joke now that it’s actually a really disgusting miracle.
We joke because we have a lot to joke about. The illnesses and health setbacks we’ve experienced are quite minor to any we may face as we truly age. The reality is that as a person moves from the role of partner and spouse to the role of permanent caregiver, there can be an incredible amount of stress added to the relationship.
I think of my own father. I’ve shared before that I never really knew him. He suffered from strokes when he was just in his mid-fifties. While he made some attempts to stay active, his health slowly deteriorated over the following ten years. Though we were never close, I am saddened when I remember that, after two failed marriages, he passed away alone in his bed at home and was found by a hired caretaker. I don’t think that is what he’d imagined the end of his life to look like on either of his wedding days.
Any time we are dealt a card other than fantastic health, we are surely not the only ones who bear the burdens of our symptoms. Taking care of someone who is sick, whether it be a little cold or something more chronic, is a true test of selflessness and love. While it can be incredibly exhausting, the burden does not have to be carried by the married couple alone. In community, we share each other’s burdens to lighten the load. Did you know that those people who watched you get married were not simply there to be an audience to your grand show? The idea is that they stand by you and you by them. Those guests are your support system, believing so much in your union that they are willing to make sacrifices themselves to see it sustained. Tony and I have had a few opportunities to sit by our friends in a hospital bed and to deliver a meal here and there to care for our friends in practical ways. And, more times than we can count, we have received care from our community. I’ve not only had friends drop off meals when my kids were sick, but offer to care for my kids when I’ve been sick and even come into my house to fold my laundry and wash my dishes. This is the kind of community not necessarily found on Facebook, but rather, as you invest yourself in others and they in turn invest themselves in you.
Still, once my gracious friends leave, I am faced with my one and only in the moments I don’t feel so attractive or romantic. Dealing with the stress of illness can be a turning point in the life of a marriage. We all have the opportunity in that moment to either fend for ourselves, or to put someone else’s needs above our own. Psychologists have studied these defining moments and found that each person’s willingness to sacrifice is key:
Couples willing to make sacrifices within their relationships were more effective in solving their problems. “It’s a robust finding,” Thomas Bradbury, a psychology professor who co-directs the Relationship Institute, said. “[This] kind of commitment predicted lower divorce rates and slower rates of deterioration in the relationship.” Of the 172 married couples in the study, 78.5 percent were still married after 11 years, and 21.5 percent were divorced. The couples in which both people were willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the marriage were significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages.
Every morning for the past several weeks, I have watched as Tony has made just these types of sacrifices. You see, I am feeling sick in the healthiest way possible. We are expecting our third child! We’ve been through this twice before, but we’ve never had two toddlers to care for in the midst of it. Tony graciously takes care of their breakfast in the morning and Nora’s first diaper while I get through the worst of my morning sickness. He also comes home in the evening and helps with dinner because, as nauseous as I’ve been, the thought of touching food sends me straight to the bathroom. So, while I am technically very healthy, my symptoms would indicate otherwise. This is just the give and take, the willingness to sacrifice, that will hopefully keep us committed to each other and out of divorce court.
So, in sickness or in health, are you willing to sacrifice for your partner? What will you do today to put their needs ahead of your own? How will you show them that you are there for them whether they are sweating out a fever or jogging down the waterfront? How can you put yourself second in a meaningful way to #staymarried?
P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read For Better or Worse or 25 Things To Do Before the Wedding. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!