Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On Marriage & Chronic Illness

Today is my eighth wedding anniversary.

And yet, more than anything else, it's a day in our life like any other.

Couples who use traditional vows promise during their wedding ceremony "to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part."

But apparently way too many people say those words, or some variation of them, without really thinking about the meaning behind them:

In sickness and in health.

The most common statistic I've seen for divorce among couples dealing with a debilitating chronic illness for one or both members is 75 percent.

That number terrifies me, which is silly because it's not like perfectly healthy couples aren't getting divorced every day at an alleged rate of 50 percent. In my small circle of friends and acquaintances, I know of four couples who started the divorce process in the past six months and several more who are in troubled marriages that may or may not survive.

And I have to admit that while Scott and I used a mostly traditional vow, neither of us expected to have to deal with the kind of chronic illness I seem to have. Sometimes I think Scott got a pretty raw deal by marrying me. (Of course, without marrying me, he wouldn't have gotten Ellie, whom we both adore. So maybe that's some compensation ... :-)

I got an email last week from someone at More Magazine asking for feedback on an article in their September issue focusing on exactly this subject. The best part of the article, besides the fact that it quoted several of my friends for the blogosphere's chronic illness community, is that it focuses not on why marriages break up due to chronic illness, but on how they survive.

There's a lot of wisdom in this article, and I highly recommend it. It's long, but well worth the time to read it. And the tips from people who are managing to cope and even thrive would be useful for anyone in a relationship.

I'm lucky that my marriage is a strong one. I think we benefit from having married later in life than many do, and we both learned some good communication skills before we met. And Scott is a glass-half-full kind of guy, which helps a lot. He regularly acknowledges that even though he's doing more than his fair share of keeping our household running, he knows I still contribute and that being a single parent would be far more difficult. And of course he loves me. :-)

I think it helps that I acknowledge how much he's doing and how hard it is on him. And although he doesn't seem to need to very often, I let him vent when he does. (And vice versa, he listens when I need to vent too.) We've both mastered asking for what we want, and not feeling like it's any less valuable for having had to ask. Neither of us expect the other to be mind readers. And we know how to give the other one space when s/he needs it (although, since we're not mind readers, we sometimes have to explicitly ask for that space).

There's no guarantee that our marriage will survive, either my chronic illness or simply the tests of time. But I hope so. And I'm grateful every day that we found each other and found our own path to follow.

Happy anniversary, Scott!


SharonMV said...

Congratulations & Happy Anniversary!
Dennis & I will be celebrating our 21st anniversary next month. I've been sick for 18 of those years & unable to work since 1992. Finally in 2006, I was diagnosed with CVID & Lupus. It's very hard to keep a marriage going through serious illness ( and being undiagnosed as you well know doesn't help). I have hope for the future, that Dennis & I will have more of a life together.

Thank you for writing about this subject.


Shiri said...

Mazel tov! And well said! As someone who has had a mystery illness, though one not nearly as debilitating as yours, for the duration of her relationship, that statistic scares the ever-lovin' pants off me. Scott sounds like a wonderful man, but I really like you, so I might be a bit biased towards hoping for you guys :). Congrats!

Aviva said...

Sharon: Since I know my memory lasts about 5 minutes, and I'll forget by next month, let me wish you an early happy anniversary and many, many more!! While I wish you hadn't been so sick for so much of your marriage, I like hearing success stories so it makes me happy to hear you and Dennis have made it for so many years. I hope too that the future is easier on you guys!

Aviva said...

Hi Shiri! Thanks so much for your sweet words! I hope that you are blessed with a partner as wonderful as mine is. Don't get me wrong -- Scott is human and not remotely perfect. But who wants to live with perfection? :-) I got really really lucky with him, and while I sometimes wish we'd met sooner or even just gotten our act together and married (and made Ellie) sooner, I don't know that I was ready for a real partnership much before I met Scott. Sometimes things are just meant to be, and I like to think that our relationship is one of those things meant to be. :-)

Thanks for your hopes that we're a success story, and I hope your relationship is too!!

Laurie said...

Happy Anniversary!!As you know, this is a subject I write about a lot and am really interested in, and it's always great to hear about relationships that continue to work in spite of illness. It's not easy, but it sounds like you guys know how to push and pull when necessary.

You are both lucky to have each other ! :)

Lisa said...

Happy Anniversary! I'm so glad you wrote this post. It is a topic that has been on my mind for some time and I was wondering why it's something not mentioned more often in our chronic illness community.

I'm thinking of you and sending many hugs your way!!!

Barbara said...

Happy anniversary.

I was married only 10 years when permanent disability struck. My exhusband treated me terribly and became outright abusive.

You are very lucky. I ended up packing up my kids and leaving unfortunately

SharonMV said...

thank you Aviva for the good wishes - I'll remember them on the day.