A life-changing serious illness or injury can test the wedding vow “in sickness and in health” and hence your relationship on many levels. If you chose the marriage route and/or if this was a vow in your ceremony. Regardless, it is commonly accepted that however you commit to a relationship with another person, you stick with them in sickness and in health, through the good times and the not-so-good times.
Last week I was reflecting on relationships and the wedding vow in sickness and in health. Because it was our wedding anniversary, we’ve been together nearly two decades and during it we’ve had to handle many big life events. This included the neurological illness I had 10 years ago and the brush with mortality my other half had. We’ve had more than one wake-up call to life.A life-changing serious illness or injury can test your relationship on many levels. And thereby the wedding vow “in sickness and in health” #seriousillness #chronicillness #seriousinjury #marriage #relationships #weddingvows tell a friend
So here are my reflections on how I think illness or injury can test the wedding vow in sickness and in health and what it is the couples who get through it intact do.
What do we mean by the wedding vow in sickness and in health?
In supporting people over the years who’ve been affected by a serious health issue, I’ve seen relationships break down. A life-changing serious illness or injury is incredibly stressful for the person who sustains it and those close to them. There can be so many reasons for it. A central one is one half of the partnership is changed in some way, whether it’s physically and/or mentally. Here are some examples.
People can find uncertainty stressful – “How will I/my partner feel today? What will they be able to do?”
“I feel guilty, like a burden. My partner deserves more than this.”
The person in the caring role may not be used (or prepared) to having to help someone to the degree they have to now.
You can no longer do some or a lot of the activities you used to do together and which defined you as a couple – walking outdoors, rock climbing, having a ‘setting the world to rights’ session in the pub.
You can’t have sex or the experience of sex is different particularly if the illness or injury has resulted in sexual dysfunction.
One of the person’s priorities for their life change and become very different from the other person’s.
The stress of the current situation exacerbates issues between the couple which existed prior to it.
The other person leaves the relationship and this can be on any number of levels. Maybe they become distant. Or interact in a very different way with you, have an affair, or they walk out not wanting to deal with the situation. It can be heart breaking.
A reason that I often hear is, ‘You are not the person you used to be.’
The cynical and frustrated part of me wants to use fruity language and say, ‘No-shit Sherlock.’
A reason for relationship breakdown after a person experiences a #seriousillness or #seriousinjury can be ‘You are not the person you used to be.” Read why that is here. #relationships #marriage #weddingvows tell a friend
But that sentence, ‘You are not the person you used to be,’ highlights a difference.
No, you are not the same person after you or a loved one experiences a serious illness or injury. You are you, but you are not you as I wrote about last week. Such an experience will change you.
And people have different tolerance thresholds for difference. Some people can see past the difference to the person they married/committed to and to what they still have in common and consider important. Other people may not be able or willing to. Willingness is key.
Everyone has a different threshold for tolerating difference. This is a key reason behind whether couples stay together or breakup after one of them has a #seriousillness or #seriousinjury #relationships #marriage #weddingvows tell a friend
How much sickness and health can you live with in this wedding vow in sickness and in health?
What do you mean by health? And sickness? In the context of a partnership or marriage, how much health and sickness are we willing to deal with? At what point do we say, ‘No, that’s my limit. I can’t/ won’t deal with that.’
Notice the words can’t and won’t.
Can’t is about ability.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the skills.
Won’t is about willingness.
I am willing to do this. I am not willing to do that.
But sometimes can’t can be a cover for won’t.
Although I am focusing on the impact of illness on the wedding vow in sickness and in health, it can work the other way around. Where one half of a couple starts to live much more healthily than previously but the other half makes different choices. This can cause strain too.
When a couple isn’t on the same page (or near enough pages) regarding a big issue, and they cannot find a way to work through it together, conflict can arise.
Relationships can become stronger due to a serious illness or injury
It may test the couple and be incredibly stressful and the couple come through it. In my experience, this is what helps.Read about what a couple can do to get through the stressful period of a #seriousillness or #eriousinjury to stay together and grow stronger #relationships #marriage #weddingvows tell a friend
They are honest about the situation. They would rather not be dealing with it. But they are
The couple keep communicating – the good and the bad.
The couple are willing enough to learn different ways of communicating to have the conversations they need to. When they the difficult situations, they are honest.
There’s a focus on behaviours, ‘When you do X, I feel Y.’ Rather than an attack on the person, ‘You’re being rubbish to me!’ ‘You’re a twat!’
Both parties own their feelings using ‘I feel…’ rather than project ownership of their feelings onto the other person, ‘You make me feel…’.
The person who has the illness or sustained the injury isn’t blamed for it. The illness/injury is treated as separate from the person.
They find a way to deal with issues. How they are dealing with it may not be 100% satisfactory to one or both of them, but they recognise and acknowledge that. It’s about finding what is good enough and works for now and having willingness to adapt as things change (like with sex).
As they are both changed by the situation, they are willing to get to know each other all over again. To rebuild their lives and find new activities they can enjoy together as a couple.
They are willing to accept help from others.
In short, the couple commit to travelling on the same road whilst having the illness/injury on their journey.
What’s it like for you?
What does the wedding vow in sickness and in health mean to you? How has that been tested (or not) in your relationship? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (form below).
If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to deal with issues in your relationship, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
Help with research on acceptance
If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.
Pass it forward
Although I wrote this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018
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