It is one thing growing older with someone and quite another when one of the two develops long term (often forever) chronic pain or health issues along the way and the other doesn’t. It doesn’t just change the dynamics of the person suffering from pain issues, it also changes how that person interacts in their marriage, and, consequently, affects the other spouse as well.
In our case, my chronic pain developed over years ~ slowly increasing as life and time took its toll and my spinal degeneration progressed. Bit by bit, some things became a little more difficult until eventually I had to eliminate certain activities all together. It’s really been in the past two years that it has reached what I consider to be a disabling status.
First, it was just making adjustments such as having cement benches installed in the circle and having the kids or my husband carry in the groceries. Then I began stepping out of bonfire dancing and taking various over the counter medications on a daily basis to try to keep going in my work profession. Eventually, I was spending more time just trying to focus on my work and spending a good percentage my off time from work in bed resting until it reached a point where it felt that I was either working or I was in bed.
As the person with the issue, I didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone else that it was catching up with me. I didn’t want to be viewed or labeled as disabled especially by my loved ones. I often did things I shouldn’t have done like moving dressers, resodding the lawn, carrying camping equipment, etc. although my husband would insist that I let him do it. I just didn’t want to admit that I was losing my superwoman status.
When it reached the point that I couldn’t work anymore, I should have just admitted it, accepted it, started pain management, and made a plan with my husband for me to retire, but I just kept at it and kept at it. I will admit now (because I couldn’t then) that if I had not been so stubborn and went to pain management earlier, I might have had a few more working years on the end side of my career.
I was forthcoming with my husband about my previous injuries from the beginning of our relationship, but I think even when you are aware of a future possibility when you are with someone day after day, you tend to become less aware of it. I didn’t suddenly become disabled, it crept up on us both very slowly until one day it just seemed like we both woke up and realized BAM I can’t do things anymore.
When this happened, everything began to change in what I deem the Make It or Break It period of time. Where I used to handle the bills and organizational parts of our marriage including family events and date nights, I became unable to do so because of the pain and the medications Where I used to make dinners most nights, I couldn’t guarantee being able to stand up every night for the amount of time needed. Sometimes dinner was ready. Sometimes dinner wasn’t. Where I made appointments for the family and ran around doing errands at lunch, I didn’t have the steam to focus on those activities and my increasing pain levels, so sometimes it would get done and sometimes it wouldn’t. The worst part is I didn’t want to accept or admit that I couldn’t, so I would say I would take care of things and then they just wouldn’t get done.
In my eyes, I was doing the best that I could and my best wasn’t being appreciated. In my husband’s eyes, I was becoming unreliable and he began feeling as if he was becoming solely responsible for everything involved in running a family household rather than having a partnership in the responsibility end of our marriage. Because of this we both went through periods of time where we would shut down from each other.
The best way I can describe our “worst times” is that we would stand with our backs to each other, but we never took one step away from each other and eventually we always turned back around to face each other. I guess that’s how our marriage made it through all the changes: by surrendering past expectations of each other, dismissing previous spousal role definitions, and allowing each other to grow and adapt into the person we each individually needed to become.
When we first got married, we made a promise to each other that if either of us ever felt like walking away, we would recommit to coming back together. We have kept that promise to each other. At this point, we worked on accepting and adapting to the changing environment of our marriage and our expectations of marriage.
I wish there was a secret I could share with everyone about how to hold a marriage together when you go through something like this or any other dramatic change in a relationship or the relationship environment, but I think it really comes down to the two individual people involved. We have seen marriages fall apart or we have seen them become stronger than they were. There is no special technique or secret to making it work, but I know this much . . .
If both people are committed to making the marriage stronger, there is a good chance it will be come stronger. If either person is not committed, there is a stronger chance a marriage won’t survive.
Brightest of Blessings ~ Mead