How do roles get determined in the couple relationship? Do we chose a partner who is like our idealized parent or like the flawed parent; like ourselves or very different from ourselves? I think whatever our initial reasons are, as the relationship evolves we find surprises that challenge us. As we grow beyond the initial intoxication, we bump into disappointments. How we move through those disappointments determines our future. We either stay stuck, repeating the same arguments over and over; or we stretch in our ability to listen without blaming and to love even when feeling wounded.
I have come to believe over the years that, as my relationship endures and deepens, I chose Richard because we are so different. His nature is exactly what I needed to catalyze me into driving toward becoming my fullest self. His belief in the basic goodness of the universe calls on me to challenge my self-protective distrust that things won’t work out unless I intervene. His slower, Southern pace and alertness to the beauty of small things reminds me to stop racing by the moment in pursuit of a better tomorrow. I have taught him about the world of emotions, and he has shown me equanimity.
Like all couples, we fell into patterns and came to rely on the complementarity and predictability of each other’s roles. One shops; the other cooks. One researches; the other negotiates. One analyzes; the other intuits. One grooms the dog; the other prepares her food.
But when one member of a couple becomes ill or incapacitated, this equilibrium and the unspoken rules that govern it change, forcing partners to assume new roles and behaviors, to learn new lines. Typically what was once a relationship of equals becomes one of caregiver and patient.
How can a couple achieve a new kind of balance - one that accommodates to the reality of the illness but also maintains a partnership of equals? Is this even possible?