Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Treat Me Like Your Mother

     Occasionally, something happens to someone else in my life that, while not directly tied to me or my husband, hits so close that I have to weigh in with my opinion on the matter. (Absolutely no one has asked me for said opinion, but since when has that ever stopped me?) It's something that I think is SO important to any couple comprised of one or both partners with a chronic illness, but so unique to each situation that I don't feel it's even possible to give advice so much as relate my experiences with the hope that it will somehow help someone wrestling with the same.

     About a month ago, my sister Lizzie and her longtime boyfriend, Erik, broke up. It's been hard on everyone in my family, as they've been together since high school and Erik couldn't feel more like my brother-in-law if they were actually married, but it's been flat-out brutal for both my sister and Erik.  Maybe they'll come back together, maybe they won't; nobody can say at this point and that's not what I'm opining on anyway.

     The thing is, their relationship shared one unfortunate trait with mine and my husband's - Erik is sick. He suffers from ulcerative colitis and has for several years. It's something that they've both had to learn to cope with over the years and I don't know that their efforts were ever quite as successful as they'd hoped. You see, in the relatively short time I've been with my husband, I've figured out pretty quickly that one distinct difference between our relationship and theirs is the role I play in my husband's medical care versus the role my sister played in Erik's.

     As I said before, I'm not trying to give advice here or start armchair-quarterbacking another's relationship; that's not what I'm here for. I'm also not trying to insinuate that this is the reason for the separation - it's not and I'm not going to get into any more detail about something that's not mine. I just can't help but notice the two completely different approaches to so similar a problem.

      From the very first, I was involved in my husband's medical care. Even back when we had just started dating, I would make sure he was okay before I left for work if it was a day he'd had to call in. Or I would suggest that he call whichever doctor in his arsenal best suited the issue at hand and make sure he followed their recommended protocol. That early bond that we developed is, I think, a big part of our current solidity as a couple. Speaking as someone who was on the outside looking in, I can't say that I saw that particular bond form between Lizzie and Erik.

     It's so important to me that my husband has made room for me to stand firmly by his side in the hospital and something that I never anticipated when we first began our relationship. I mean, we talked about what his disorder would mean to us as a couple and how his Marfan's would affect our future, but we couldn't possibly have anticipated what would grow between us on that front. I really don't think there's any way we could've known, because there was no guarantee that it would happen. There was also no way to know how very essential to the strength of our relationship it would become.

     I love my in-laws a whole lot. We get along waaaaaay better than I did with my ex-husband's family and that's due in large part to the fact that they love my husband and I for who we are, not who they think we should be. (That, though, is kind of a whole different story, so let's move on...) Another great thing about them? While they're always there to support us, they know that ultimately, it comes down to my husband and I. Anything regarding his healthcare comes down to us and what we decide is going to be the best thing for our lives at that precise moment in time. That's a huge thing.

     As much as I love my family and could not be any closer to them, I have to make my decisions based on my husband's opinions and needs and wants. I know he makes his decisions the same way and I see now that it can't be any other way for us. I don't know if it's the same for other couples in shoes like ours, but for us to make this work, there's no other way.

     My husband is very clear about the fact that he and I are the ones who make the decision regarding his medical care, not his family. Please, please, please don't read that as me being super-bitch who only wants her husband all to herself and nevermind the fact that he's also a son and a brother; that's not what I'm saying at all. In fact, I always make it a point to call and discuss any major issues that pop up with both his parents and his sister, because I believe that they should absolutely know what's going on and have all the information they need so as to make an informed decision about the role they want to play in his care, if any.

     The point here is that, in my opinion, when you're dealing with something like Marfan's Syndrome making itself all kinds of unwelcome in your marriage, there really is no choice but to stand together as a team. It's kind of a twist on the whole "forsaking all others" bit that's usually included with the marriage vows. (Side note: I don't actually think my husband and I said that when we got married because Adam wrote the whole ceremony, but I could be wrong. End side note.)

     Everyone assumes that parts refers to not getting intimate with anyone but your beloved and they're not wrong, but doesn't it also make sense that it would refer to making your partner the primary decision-making partner in your life? I mean, yeah, ask your friends for their opinions, talk to your family about what they think, but when push comes to shove, it has to be a partnership, not a group effort. My place has to be forever right beside my husband for this to work and I'm pretty sure it always will be.

     The end result of all this rambling and over-thinking is that seeing my sister's troubles made me realize how lucky I am in having a husband who is of a mind with me on what could be a landmine issue. Ultimately, he's the one who made the decision, consciously or not, that it would always be us in the hospital room, us talking to the doctors and us making the final call with potential treatments, hospitalizations, or anything else that wants to walk through the door. I never realized before how crucial that piece of the puzzle is to our marriage, but it's a damned big piece, so I'm really glad it fits so well for us.

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