A reader wrote to me the other day about a struggle she/he is having with his/her significant other, and I really felt passionately enough about the issue to respond via public blog post. The issue went something like–“I was diagnosed with [a life changing illness] he/she doesn’t want to take care of me, so he/she wants to end our relationship and now I’m really upset”. Now, I don’t really know the full extent of the issue, but here’s what I would say to the relationship-ender: None of us are perfect. All of us carry wounds. When you enter into a relationship with someone, you accept that you will take care of whatever they carry with them, and they accept whatever you carry with you, and you take care of each other’s imperfections.
Some of us carry visible, physical wounds with us that alter our existences–whether that is something like a diabetes diagnosis, and we will forever be checking our blood sugars and pumping insulin–a cancer treatment, and our joints forever a little more sore, our bruises linger a little longer, our thinking patterns a little different–the loss of a finger from an accident at work–and our ability to pick up and fix things a little more difficult–or even the very common addition of glasses or contacts to the see the world more clearly might change how we interact with the world.
Some of us carry unseen, emotional wounds with us that alter our existences–perhaps that wound is from your dysfunctional childhood–and forever, you will be unable to sleep if the laundry isn’t organized, the kitchen counters not clear, the floors not vacuumed. Perhaps that wound is from a previous relationship–maybe your significant other cheated on you, and forever, when there are gaps in text messages, absences in communication, you will start drumming up scenarios. Perhaps those wounds are from a stinging rejection in middle school, and forever, you will be self conscious about your nose, or the scar on your forehead, or whatever.
We all carry wounds with us, whether they be physical or emotional–no one ever exits this world untouched–and when I choose to enter into a relationship with someone, I’m choosing to accept and take care of their wounds, just like they are choosing to accept and take care of mine.
This goes back to the point I’ve been making for a while–the guy you are going to date is different than the guy you are going to marry (that is–if you goals are to have a happy and successful marriage with someone), and when you shift your thinking to looking for the guy you are going to marry, you are going to inevitably pick out different guys. It’s like writing a literary analysis–if I am going to write about government censorship, then I am going to look for different quotes than if I am going to write about identity formation. Or, like shopping–if I am going out to purchase an outfit for an interview, I am going to look at different articles than if I am going out to find an outfit to bring to Vegas–my ultimate goal that I am striving for changes the criteria that I am searching for. If I am just looking at someone to date, then I’m probably looking for someone who is good looking (so my friends can “Ooooh” and “Awww” over my social media posts), someone who can improve my social status (introduce me to top name people, cart me around to fancy places, buy me nice things), and someone that I can have a good time with. And, not that those things may not be factors in the guy that I’m going to marry, but if I’m really genuinely interested in having a happy and successful marriage, then I need to shift my blinders towards finding a guy who is humble, willing to compromise and solve conflicts with me, someone who is supportive of my aspirations for myself (as long as those aspirations are not harmful to myself or others), and, in the case of the life altering diagnosis man/women, someone who is going to take care of me, in sickness and in health–and those two guys may look different.
When we look at the trajectory of our lives, and the fact that we are staying on this planet longer and longer, and while that leaves us more time to celebrate in the positive events, inevitably, we will suffer those physical pains and those emotional wounds. Someone will lose a job, have an adverse reaction to sushi or their antibiotics; someone will experience feelings of hopelessness and meaninglessness, there will be struggles with family, with finances, and with each other. We cannot escape the suffering, but we want to ensure we are pairing ourselves with someone who is going to suffer alongside us.
I’m always kind of fascinated to know what happens in the intimate conversations between two people. From an outsider’s perspective, we never witness these moments, but rather, we often hear about the outcome–because, as people, we are really good at putting on face in front of others. A couple weekend ago, I sat at a church retreat and listened to a speaker give her story about infertility, and her and her husband’s path towards adoption. As the listener, I hear the outcome of the story (that they settled on adoption), but I am not privy the other conversations that lead up to it–the obvious suffering and emotional turmoil–and the tender conversations and ways the couple supported each other in the process. I’m assuming there were many tears, but in the process, somehow, the two of them decided to support each other in this emotional (and probably physical) pain, and it is within those moments that the strongest relationships are born.
So, it’s actually really great that the relationship-ender in this scenario was honest enough to say he/she wasn’t willing to take care of that other person’s physical wounds, because that is admitting his/her selfishness, and selfishness never fronts a sustainable relationship. Because, when you choose to enter into an intimate relationship with someone, and your goals are to have a happy and successful marriage (and not be selfish, or have someone buy you nice things, or whatever other reason you might want a significant other), you are vowing to love them and care for them, in sickness and in health (physical and mental), just like they are vowing to do the same for you, and in the end, the sum of two parts is always greater than just one by itself.