It was Valentine’s Day, 1987. We had been married three and a half years. On this day, a day set aside to celebrate our love and our relationship, my husband committed the ultimate Valentine’s Day Crime: he waited until the last minute…the DAY itself…to go purchase my Valentine’s Day surprises. And I never would have known had it not been for the major blizzard that struck in the wee hours of that morning. Roads and businesses were closed, leaving my poor husband trapped in our little house with a very angry wife…
I saw it as the ultimate betrayal. How could he not think of me until the very last minute? Certainly this barometer of his love was the lowest it had ever been, and ever could be. It was, in my eyes, proof that he didn’t care, that he would put this off until it was almost too late. Oh, how silly and immature I was!!!
Fast-forward to the present. Since my husband’s illness has kicked into high gear, I get very impatient with the many articles we are bombarded with, especially this time of year, about relationships: How to Tell If He is Cheating. What to Do If She Won’t Communicate. Top 10 Relationship Blunders. What Your Loved One Really Needs to Hear, etc. It’s enough to make me lose my mind, for this simple reason: these concerns are no longer part of our relationship equation. In fact, they seem petty, even laughable.
When you have a spouse or significant other who is fighting a serious or chronic illness, time is not spent nurturing the relationship. Time is spent in contemplation. Time is spent healing and resting. Consciously or not, the ill person will likely withdraw. The moments when feelings are discussed are few and far between, and even those conversations might concentrate on upsetting topics such as death and moving on. Instead of fun-filled togetherness days, those hours are usually filled with clinical activities such as giving medication, symptom monitoring and control, doctor’s appointments, tests, rest, planning and preparing a balanced diet, and any other issues that may arise. It is during these times that one can only hope for the foundation that has already been built to sustain the relationship.
I am proud to say that I have shed the pettiness of those early years of our relationship. I no longer see the slip-ups as tests of how much he cares. In fact, the real tests run much deeper than that. For instance, having one of the ICU nurses tell me that he was much calmer when I was with him made me see how deep our bond was cemented. That he, in his delirious post-surgery state, would instinctively know that I was a familiar presence meant more than getting a Valentine’s Day card on time. Most importantly, seeing everything that my husband has gone through has sometimes, but not always, tempered my selfish need for hearing how important I am to him, or how pretty he thinks I am. Our relationship no longer needs to be tested. It is solid enough to weather our circumstances, and during the good days we will build up any deficit. It’s an equation that works for us.