“Do you take (insert name) to be your husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part?”
These are the words that most of us spoke and promised to our spouse at one point in our life. Whether it was two months ago or 20 years ago, we all remember this day as one of the happiest days of our lives.
But do we really know what we are saying when we commit these words to our partner? Do we really know what we are getting ourselves into on arguably the best day of our lives?
These words are beautiful, romantic, and the epitome of a Godly marriage based on unconditional love. But the human mind can’t even imagine these scenarios as we stand in our whimsical, billowing, white dress staring into the eyes of the person with whom we envision our future.
We envision a beautiful future together free of problems and trials. We don’t envision a future where we will endure daily struggles and situations that often seem unbearable.
At 21 years old, I could not even fathom what life would throw mine and Ben’s way throughout our marriage. When we said “in sickness and in health,” I’m confident that both of us imagined taking care of each other into our late seventies as our bodies physically aged. I’m sure that we envisioned caring for one another once a year when our spouse suffered from the common cold.
Even before being diagnosed with gastroparesis, I spent many nights up into the wee hours of the morning with unbearable stomach cramps. Those nights prepared me for long days spent in bed, unable to get up due to severe dehydration and weakness from being unable to eat.
The once healthy 21-year-old that Ben married no longer existed. While we were once able to go on long dates that lasted into the night, Friday nights turned into date nights on the couch watching Netflix.
Though we once visited restaurants and sampled gourmet food, we could no longer eat at restaurants due to my strict dietary restrictions and inability to eat as I once normally did.
Unable to eat fat, fiber, or raw fruits and vegetables as well as the restriction of eating a normal-sized meal, it was extremely difficult to enjoy date nights at restaurants with my husband. Since our society revolves around food, it was extremely difficult to partake in functions or fellowship with friends and families.
While I would have to politely decline the high in fat piece of cheesecake, nobody understood the dietary restrictions and, more so, the extreme consequences of breaking these restrictions and indulging in my desires.
Even more so, they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t even eat healthy foods like fruits (which are extremely difficult to digest) and why I would say I was full only a few bites into the meal. While it was difficult for my family and friends to understand, I can’t even imagine the thoughts that were racing through the mind of my husband.
Our lives, at the young age of 24, had been completely changed.
I’m sure Ben did not plan on having to make sure his 25 year old wife could hold enough fluids just to survive. I’m sure he did not think his wife would be bed-ridden many days out of the week, too weak and in pain to walk farther than the bathroom. I’m sure he didn’t plan on having to help his wife with simple tasks after a long, tiring day at work. I’m sure he didn’t imagine being the sole provider as his wife would be physically incapable of having a job due to too many absences from pain and illness.
At such a young age, no one can prepare themselves for having to take care of the person with which they planned on having such an adventurous and prosperous life.
When Ben and I stared at each other with tears in our eyes on our wedding day, we planned for a life of travelling, eating exotic food, advancing in our careers, and starting a family. I know that Ben didn’t plan on having a wife physically incapable of fulfilling all of the many dreams we shared.
I will never forget the way Ben looked at me as I walked down the aisle. While the tears streamed down his face and the way he looked at me, as if I was the only person in the room, I knew he would love me forever. But I know, he was not prepared for this.
Sickness takes a toll on people both physically and emotionally. But it is also emotionally exhausting on the spouse. I can see the way Ben looks at me with concern in his eyes each time he leaves me to go to work. I know he doesn’t want to leave, but has to just to support his family.
I see the disappointment in his eyes every time I cancel a date night we had planned or don’t go with him to a family event. I can see the questions in his eyes as I’m still in bed when he gets home from work ten hours later. But he never asks them.
As many people did, Ben and I had 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 read at our wedding. From God’s example, we know that “love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, Love never fails.”
But what if you don’t feel patient? What if you don’t feel kind? How do you not get easily angered when you’re in constant pain? How are you not upset when your wife isn’t meeting your needs the way you expected she would?
I’m sure Ben expected his wife to get dressed up for him—to put on her nicest clothes, adorn herself in makeup, and fix her hair in a fashionable style.
He didn’t expect to come home every day to a wife devoid of makeup with bed-head and still in yoga pants and a t-shirt at five in the evening. I’m sure he expected a wife who would eagerly plan date nights to adventurous locations, not one who constantly planned dates with Redbox. I’m sure he expected a wife who would cook elaborate meals for him, not one who would offer cereal for dinner because she couldn’t muster the energy to cook.
Being in a marriage where one spouse is chronically ill is life-changing.
It’s not like a cold that irritates you for a few days and then goes away. It is persistent, debilitating, never-ending, and lasts daily.
How can two people connect when one is physically incapable of spending time with the other outside of the house? How can the marriage grow and develop when you can’t spend necessary time together?
How does a spouse deal with the fact that their needs are not being met, but they feel too selfish to bring up their problems when they know you are suffering? How can two people communicate in a marriage when one is riddled with pain and the other afraid to accidentally say something offensive?
Living with a chronically ill spouse can often feel as if you’re walking on eggshells, not knowing what to say or do in fear of offending the other person.
I have learned over the years of being sick that people cannot understand the thought of a seemingly healthy, 25-year-old being so physically ill that they cannot function. I would receive constant questions such as: “Why can’t you just work part time?” “It’s not that long. You can push through the pain for just a few hours,” “Does it really hurt that bad?” “Are you sure you can’t do…?” “Have you tried…?” “How can you still be tired? You slept all day.” “Can’t you eat just a little?”
I would get comments like: “But you don’t look sick.” “You look really good!” “It must be nice to lose weight since you’re never hungry. I wish I could not be hungry.” “You’re losing to much weight. You need to eat.”
And then there was the advice that I would receive. “Maybe you should exercise more. It would give you more energy.” “You just need to try getting out more often.” “It doesn’t matter how much it hurts. You just have to eat.” I knew these questions and comments were going through my husband’s head. But he never mentioned them.
I saw the looks I got from others when they heard I don’t have a job. “Oh. Well are you looking?” What DO you do all day then?” I’m sure my husband often wondered why I couldn’t handle having a job—not even a part-time one. I’m sure he wanted to ask. But he never did.
While I don’t know why we are going through this at such an early point in our marriage, I trust that God has a plan and a purpose for us through this. I am thankful that he provided me with someone so loving, caring, and understanding of my physical needs—someone so patient he can be there for me when I’m at my worst.
I believe, with all my heart, that “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.”
While this isn’t what we expected, it has grown us into the people we are now—it has made us stronger in our marriage and our commitment to one another.