Illness can be a demanding task-master. It can consume time, energy, patience, compassion, and even love. It can smash our early relationship dreams of a blissful hand-holding companionship - a happy couple smoothly tripping down the road of life, producing strong children and noble works along the way, and ending in a quiet sunset, supported by a steady retirement income stream.
One of the sadder casualties of illness is our image of our partner. A once charmed, handsome, generous, capable image gets supplanted by the gray profile of disease. Conversation that was once lively and expansive constricts to topics that can be researched on WebMD. The love that brought the couple together can be forgotten, supplanted by worry or detachment.
To reclaim each other, to resurrect or rebuild intimacy, I suggest couples do two things:
- Be together in silence. When the turbulence of activity slows to stillness, and space is emptied of the words you hurl at your fears and resentments, you may be able to see that unique essence of your beloved that drew you together before illness did its damage. In silence, you may be able to reconnect with the spirit (some of you may call it the soul) that has not disappeared but may be waiting to be roused. Being together in silence may seem impossible. It isn't. And it doesn't have to be for hours, all at once. It can start with an uncomfortable ten minutes three times a week and build up over time.
- Laugh together. Laughter is not only potentially good for one's health, but it disrupts the rhythm of complacency or anger or sadness. One day, when I was in the thick of my chronic pain condition and in no mood to connect much less laugh, I noticed about seven black socks draped all along the stairs that led to the bedroom. I asked Richard how they got there. He answered, "They're making a break for it....trying to reach the land of lost socks before they're caught." I cracked up. It felt so good. And it felt so good to look into Richard's eyes with lightness in my own, instead of the usual darkness.