In Sickness and in Health

The title for this article comes of course from a traditional line in a Western wedding vow. Yet how often do we consider each line of that vow prior to making it? A few years ago, I got an opportunity to experience this in my own life.

I had been involved in a serious car accident. Despite wearing a seat belt, and my car not actually moving (traffic was backed up, waiting for an opportunity to turn onto another street, and a driver in a car behind did not notice all the red brake lights ahead of him. Well, if the lights hadn’t tipped him off, I’m sure the abrupt STOP and accompanying crunch of metal and shattering of glass filled him in.

When we are hit where we live, a piece of ourselves vital to our everyday activities, is threatened, it can be very frightening. For a factory worker who loses a hand, a runner who injures a leg, or for someone like us who works with technical data and human behavioral strategies, our brains are very important to us. The resulting concussion was very frightening indeed. The brain has, in some ways, a great deal of resiliency, yet research has also shown that some aspects of brain-controlled or brain-managed function are actually quite fragile. Damage of certain types and of certain profundity can radically alter behavior, personality, and yes, skill.

This is not to blow this injury, which thankfully was temporary, out of proportion. All due respect to those who have suffered far worse. Yet it was every bit as frightening for us to consider the possibility that the injury would have devastating and far-reaching impact. No doctor could tell me in the first month how long it would take, or if complete healing would ever take place. There are no guarantees, we were told.

The medical answer was to take pain killers for the headaches, anti-nausea medication for the nausea and vertigo, and to get lots and lots of bed rest. Concentrating on anything at all, a book, a work-related activity, a movie, would lead to dizziness and severe headaches after an hour or two, at most.

If such an injury could threaten the career of someone who uses their brain for a living, consider as well the uncertainty that can accompany personality shifts, erratic behavior, much decreased patience and much shortened temper. This, we would suggest, certainly qualifies under the “in sickness…” part of the vow.

But every challenge we face, we don’t face alone. We face it with our partner, with our loved ones. We can choose to try and struggle with it alone as well – but once you’re in a relationship, nothing you do exists in a vacuum. Whether you choose to be strong and silent or not, your partner is suffering as well. All who care about you are suffering much of the same uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and though they also are worried about you, it’s only human to also consider the ramifications for themselves and for the relationship, the family unit, itself. If the person who’s been in the accident, or gotten sick, is a bread-winner, it is natural to wonder if that role is in jeopardy. Likewise if the person in the accident or sick is the sole person to put the kids to bed at night, it makes sense that if they can’t, who will? And will it be as effective, as any break in routine can be stressful at first.

You the couple however are the foundation of everything in your home. You are the core of the family unit, whether you have twenty kids or two point five, whether you gave birth to them or adopted them. Or whether you rescued them from the animal shelter! They all look to you to guide the family. The good news is that vow we mentioned earlier. It has the ability to bind you together, giving you each the confidence that you can do anything together (you might be surprised – you actually CAN do anything together). When we recommit actively to our partner and to our relationship, we reinvigorate it with our love and energy. That gives us the certainty that, to borrow another common phrase from that vow, in good times or bad, we can count on that person to stick with us, to help guide our family, and to make it through whatever challenges life throws our way.

There are a thousand methods for HOW to achieve this. What we are surprised to see around us at times is how few people even want to bother. But each of us in this world is a length of rope. We can be worn down, strengthened, distressed by the elements, even sealed against those elements. We are strong, yes, but with frustration and lack of care, we can also become brittle and easily torn. When we create a loving relationship, truly commit to it, and vow to care for it and nurture it, we are weaving our own rope with that of our partner. Each loving force we bring into the family, whether it’s kids, either the human or the four-legged kind, adds another length of rope to our braid. Soon, we have such a strong, resilient length of braided rope that it’s like those amazing ropes that hold huge boats to the dock. It seems that nothing can break them.

And when we find ourselves “in sickness”, that amazing rope can sustain us and reassure everyone in the family that we will survive this. Indeed, we are believers in looking for ways to grow stronger and more capable as a result of the injury. In much the same way as being exposed to a virus can help inoculate against the full blown illness, we believe that small, manageable tests can enhance the love relationship, what I often call the “loveadventure”. Even if in the middle of the stress, we can’t imagine how we will persevere, how we will survive it, either as individuals or as a family.

But survive you will because you have taken your vow seriously. Whether or not you are actually married to your partner, your energy is fully capable of doing all we have described here. It’s a beautiful thing, and one of the best things you can do for your own health.

I challenge you, when facing such a challenge, to pull together with your partner, to resist the temptation to lash out and vent your frustration or anger against the one person you can count on to be at your side. They deserve better than that. And when you consider the long term consequences of either building your rope or tearing it apart, so do you.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Gingolph

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