I still remember saying my wedding vows on a hot summer day nearly twelve years ago. I take thee, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part. I was twenty-four years old.
Looking back now, I did not fully realize what I was saying or promising at that age.
I truly loved my husband (and I still do of course) but I thought we would live happily ever after, without any problems. I never stopped to think of how we’d be tested in our marriage from those promises we made.
Specifically, I had no clue my husband and I would endure so many health issues in the first decade of our marriage. These illnesses would test us and prove challenges.
Both my husband and I have undergone surgeries. We were both plagued with digestive issues for months. I had an early miscarriage. Our two children have been sick constantly from school and day care. We have had a lot of unhealthy moments in our marriage.
From that, I have learned that during ill times, you really have to remain supportive and strong for your spouse and your family.
Here are a few tips that my husband and I do to hold it together when we are not at our best either physically or mentally:
Be supportive and understanding
Show sympathy when someone in your family isn’t feeling well. Even if it seems odd or unbelievable, validate that sick person’s thoughts. The last thing an ailing parent or child needs is for someone to make them feel worse about the situation. Offer a hug. Ask questions. Learn the symptoms. Research how they can be treated or helped. Ask what you can do for the other person to put them at ease . There is something you can do to help, no matter how small. The sooner the sick person is well again, the better off everyone will be.
Lead as the caretaker
Usually only one family member in my home is sick at a time. Therefore the healthy person can lead as caretaker. If I contract a stomach virus, my husband will perform double duty with doing everything around the house – feeding the children, doing the laundry, cleaning the dishes and more. He lets me take it easy or just sleep. I will do the same for him if he is not doing well. Most of the time, rest is the best way to become well again; so if one person is sick, she or he needs to relax while others need to take up the slack. If you’re the person doing more, realize that it won’t be this way forever. Instead of looking at the extra work, treat it as honor to truly care for the one you love most.
Find an intimate activity to do together comfortably
Some illnesses and recovery require physical restrictions. Perhaps you cannot have sex or even kiss your partner for a certain time period. Realize that there are other ways you can be intimate with your partner. For example, when my husband was recovering post-surgery, we watched a lot of his favorite movies together. He is a vivid fan of the Star Trek franchise so I took the opportunity to see these films with him. Other ways to offer affection are gentle back or shoulder rubs. You can cook or bake a favorite meal for the ill person. Board or card games can be selected for a little competitive fun. Reading is always a good activity too. Your spouse still wants to be with you and feel close to you even when you cannot be physical. Together find an activity you can do comfortably to keep your bond strong.
Realize the sickness is just temporary; or if not, make long-term plans
If the caretaker is feeling overwhelmed and stressed by taking on the additional efforts for the sick person, he or she can remember that the extra duties are just temporary. The illness will pass and the work will be more evenly distributed once again. A few sleepless nights won’t matter after your partner or child is healthy again. The vomit in the bed can be washed away and the snotty tissues will be forgotten. However, what if the illness is long term? What if the sickness develops into something terminal? Although difficult to face, the caretaker should formulate plans for the future. If a partner cannot provide health for the loved one all the time, then he or she will need to take a break or ask for help. Make a plan with your spouse and find a support system. Enjoy each and every moment remaining.
Cherish all the memories with your loved ones when they are thriving and with you. Keep in mind all the suggestions above during sick times and healthy times. Try to always be supportive and caring. Find activities to do together even if you can’t be physically intimate. Make plans that benefit everyone as a family. Take your vows seriously. Marriage may not be the fairytale but it is a wonderful journey worth experiencing to the fullest.