First, I’d like to clarify that I’m not an expert in relationships. Let me also say that being in a relationship with someone who is chronically ill and/or in pain isn’t easy. There are good times and bad times, most of which, if you’re really lucky, will come from the ups and downs of their pain. However, with my wife and I, that hasn’t always been the case.
When the person you love has a chronic illness, the whole dynamic of the word “relationship” changes. I can talk to her about it and she can talk to me, but her illness and pain stand as things that I simply can’t relate to her on. This can be as alienating or bonding as we make it out to be. Whether it alienates us from each other or bonds us depends solely on how well we communicate as a couple. Relationships are built on a foundation of five different pillars: Trust, Communication, Honesty, Consideration and Respect. In my experience, when you are in a relationship with someone who has a chronic illness and/or pain, there is another pillar to that foundational puzzle that can either be another strong leg in the foundation or the catalyst for the destruction of said foundation. We’ve been together almost six years now and married for four this November and I feel like I find out how much more I have to learn every day.
That last pillar is the illness and/or pain itself. It is an element that does not make itself as visible as the other five and, because of that, extra work is required for it to be seen. My wife and I talk often about how she is feeling physically, where she is at today and things of that nature. In my experience, it is just as important that she talks to me as it is that I listen. I mean actually listen to what she’s saying. I’ve seen that it is sometimes difficult for people in her shoes to be 100 percent straightforward about their pain, either because they simply don’t want to give it credence at the risk of making it worse or because nobody else listens to them. This is tragically common behavior from family, friends and even medical professionals as most of those reading this and who have chronic illness already know.
This has been a process for me. I’m learning not only about my wife, who she is, what her hopes and dreams are and the multitude of other things that I want and need to know about her, but also about her illness, conditions and pains. Sometimes it feels like her pain is a sentient entity in our relationship, and, from all I’ve read, that is a good way to look at it. If I see her condition as a part of her, I run the risk of resentment. So, it’s best to view it as something we are fighting against together.
Now for the hard part: I can’t win. It is not something I can fight against and beat. This, for me, was the hardest thing to accept.
I can be there for her and I can perform tasks for her, but I will never know as much about combating her illness and pain as she will. That leaves me with what feels like very little that I can do for her. It feels like I have a deep sense of hopelessness at times. I need to remind myself to take as much solace and pride in what I can do for her and know she will do the rest. If she needs anything, my role is to make sure she knows she can trust me to make it happen no matter what it is.
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, I need to remind myself to talk about the impact of her illness and pain on me. If I don’t talk about how I feel, she won’t know and will feel shut out, thus separating us from each other. It isn’t easy, not ever, to watch the person I love in pain. But, if I am here, committed, and communicating, I’m helping to create the bond necessary to have a lasting, dedicated and loving relationship with the person I love, no matter the obstacle.
To quote Noah from “The Notebook,” “It’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard, and we’re gonna have to work at this every day. But, I wanna do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day.”