We all must have experienced an occasional cold or fever that hit us and put our entire life out of track. No one ever fell sick at a good and convenient time. Sickness usually disrupts our schedules, plans, finances and in short, our daily normal life. Our health is often one of the most important aspects that we take for granted until it fails us. No one ever accounted for illness and sickness while making plans for the future. We make plans assuming that we will keep good health and that everything will always be fine, may it be as small as booking a movie ticket or planning an elaborate holiday etc. Yet, what we all know from experience is that health can quickly go downhill if we do not take care of ourselves.
I don’t think anybody enjoys being sick. When we are sick, we are vulnerable and need assistance. We cannot manage everything on our own and need to look out for help. It is one thing to be sick, but the whole dynamics changes drastically when you have to take care of another who is sick. I am often surprised and I question if couples really understand the vows they take on their marriage day or if the adrenaline rush of love numbs our understanding of reality when deciding to take the vows. One element of marriage vows is to love the other in sickness and health. I know the idea sounds extremely romantic and movies like ‘Fault in our stars’ makes you believe that love can conquer every problem, but once we let go of our romantic framework we can see that this element of marital vow is truly a challenge for couples.
How can she fall sick now, just when I need her to be there for me? He never falls sick when he has plans, only when I need a break he is down. I work so hard and save money, only for her to fall sick and to spend on the doctor. There goes our family holiday, thank you Sickness. We might have not had these exact same thoughts but grumble internally when our spouse is not keeping well. At least a normal cold, cough, fever is still bearable but what about chronic illnesses, accidents, depression etc. Have we ever thought about how our life would change overnight if something like this happened to either one of the partners? I know its not something pleasant to think about and not the best way to begin your day, but I believe these are things which need to be spoken of at marriage preparation courses and marriage enrichment programs because it is a fundamental element of one’s marital promise.
There are no ready made answers or attitudes that anyone can prescribe to respond to illness of a loved one. Each one reacts based on their personality and inner disposition towards a particular situation, yet I would like to suggest some ways that may help you to live out your vow more faithfully.
- Pray for the health of your spouse
We pray for our families and for people in need but often take the people closest to us for granted. Praying for your spouse goes beyond just praying that he or she gets a promotion, has a good day etc. Pray for their personality, pray for their weaknesses, pray for their health and pray for their relationship with God. Remember this may seem extremely simple and obvious but usually ignored. There is great strength in the prayers you make for your partner. Remember you are a team and the team members need to have each other’s back at all times. So, if your partner is not keeping in the best of health, then there is no walking away! You don’t walk away from your team.
It is a scary thought to be an open book to the other. Some find it difficult to even open up to God, leave alone any other human person. But confessing is an important part of marriage. I don’t mean confession in the narrow sense of the term. But confessing to the other what you are struggling with – your sins, your emotions, what are you feeling, what is disturbing you. The worst solution to your problems is closing off. Speak to your partner and tell them what is exactly going on. What might be extremely obvious to you might be extremely complicated to your partner. So, take time daily or once a week to sit together and speak up. You don’t need to wait for the next CFCI program to have a simple one to one with your partner.
- Respect the otherI understand it is hard to take care of a person who is sick, even worse when the illness is serious. Even through the struggle you are facing, remember your partner needs to be respected. Nobody falls sick on purpose. They may have ignored their health and so this may be the result, but right now they need your love and understanding, not some crash course on healthcare. As the years pass by in marriage, you start taking the other for granted and usually dump all your trash on them. Your bad mood, horrible temper, rude words etc are easily shot at your partner but by doing this you are not respecting the other. Respect for the other means looking beyond the running nose, unkept hair, bad breath and constant trips to the doctor. Respect for the other means looking internally at the person who fell in love with you and loving them for who they are and not what they feel or look like.
- AdjustThis is something we all know that comes with marriage. To adjust is not so much an option as two different people come together to stay with one another. When I say adjust, I don’t mean to be stuck with each other because you took your vows. If you feel stuck in your marriage then you need to work on getting things right again as marriage is not meant to be that way. To adjust means to reach a WIN – WIN situation where both feel satisfied and understood. This might be the most essential part of marriage because most people operate from a WIN – LOSS perspective only. To adjust means if my husband snores at night I won’t ask him to sleep in the other room or grumble about how my sleep is ruined but rather accept it as a reality to live with though it might not be the most comfortable reality. I must realize I have weaknesses that might not be so tangible but still difficult to live with too. To reach a WIN -WIN situation requires proper communication and willingness to compromise.
I know reading this article might seem like something we are already aware of and nothing new to learn but my aim in reminding you of this issue in marriage is to challenge you to develop ‘A Spirituality of Health and wellness.’ Most couples fall into despair at the challenge of illness in marriage but there are those who experience immense spiritual growth and a mystical experience of God through their struggle. The cling on to each other and support each other as they are tested in fire. They realize quickly that we cannot go through this alone and so need the other. There is something sacred about illness because it reveals a great deal about ourselves – our stamina, perseverance, our religious disposition. Illnesses also help to reorient our lives, set our priorities in place and focus on what is crucial rather than just go on from day to day existence. Sickness is not something we desire, it is never a good experience but just because it is not desired does not mean it is not fruitful. The challenge is to see its fruitfulness in the midst of the pain and struggle one is undergoing. Yet if we just simple embrace the illness with the joy that God gives us, we will see its sacredness and meaning for life.
Every time I witness a marriage and the couples taking their vows and making their promise I can’t imagine but think that it has to be something divine and beyond simple human decisions that makes a person promise to the other in front of God that they will no longer be two but one. I see the presence of God when they say ‘I will love you in sickness and in health’ Revisit your marriage vows and now understand what you have promise. It is time we move beyond the questions and complaining about illness and listen deeply to the Spirit suffering in pain within us as we embrace our sickness.