“For better or for worse, in sickness and in health” are part of nearly every wedding ceremony. As we stand with our soon-to-be spouse, however, we usually only think about the “for better and in health.” Think again!
The odds are high that problems will arise. In “The 7 Stages of Marriage,” researchers Sari Harrar and Rita DeMaria report 94 percent of marriages will eventually face a major challenge. Having a strong marriage that will last begins with two people with the character and values to stick with the other when times aren't all fun.
An example: I had a torn rotator cuff, which required surgery. I didn't look forward to the process, the mandatory night in the hospital or the several weeks of pain that was sure to follow.
But I was not the only one affected by the surgery; my wife and our marriage were also involved.
I'm right-handed and my right shoulder needed surgery. That meant I needed help with such basic activities as washing, brushing teeth and shaving, along with large doses of TLC (i.e. “tender, loving care”) when the shoulder started acting up.
When medical problems arise, couples can help their marriage by keeping several basics in mind:
Have patience with the patient
Unless your spouse is a hypochondriac, they're not having fun, either. Physical symptoms, such as pain, nausea and dizziness, can turn a normally even-tempered person into one who is more demanding than you're accustomed to. If your spouse snaps at you, it is probably the frustration and fears caused by the illness or injury that they're really upset with.
Have patience with your caregiver
Couples share their day-to-day tasks in ways that work for them. If you are incapacitated, your spouse still has his or her regular chores, along with the job of nursing you and the added jobs you usually do. This can be exhausting. When you need something or are feeling uncomfortable, be appreciative of what your spouse is doing for you, even if it's not as quick as you'd like or exactly in the way you'd like.
Don’t worry about physical modesty
Modesty should not be part of the marriage relationship. It's impossible to completely enjoy sexual intimacy if both spouses don't willingly share their bodies. When there's an illness or injury, modesty will limit your spouse's ability to assist you. It's hard to wash your spouse in all the places that need washing, if you can't see what you're doing.
Recognize the value of teamwork
You're in this together, and working together will strengthen your marriage. Harrar and DeMaria call periods of medical problems the “Explosion Stage.” They explain that the skills that form the foundation of a healthy marriage are the same skills that are needed when illnesses hit: “communication, support, acceptance and flexibility.”
As Harrar and DeMaria note, “We survive — even thrive — through rough times.” By working together and sacrificing for each other, couples learn in a very personal way that their marriage is more than just the two of them. Facing these challenges may not be fun, but they are part of the adventure of marriage.
These times also give us opportunities to find “new ways to keep joy alive in your life and your marriage,” Harrar and DeMaria said. “The truth is, you still need each other.”
Working through illness or injury united will make you feel cared-for and leave it in a better state of health.