Marriage is Awesome (Even When Life Kind of Sucks)

We talk a lot about the good times and bad times in marriage. Or, let me rephrase that… we should talk a lot about good times and bad times in marriage, though I often feel like our limited (and sh*tty) cultural discourse on the subject talks about weddings as the Happiest Moment Of All and marriage as The Inevitable Decline. But, in theory, if we talked as much as we should about the good and bad parts of marriage, we’d talk about them as if they were separate things. And if there is anything I’ve learned in life (or in this very long month on the road… I’m heading home as you read this), it’s that the wonderful and the hard are always very intermixed. I love that this post talks about the good times during the bad times and how living our vows is pretty wonderful, even when we’re struggling.

For the last year I’ve been struggling with being seriously ill, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to navigate being newly married (just over a year) in that context. It’s been hard, but after spending months feeling sorry for myself I want to write about why being married is awesome, even when life kind of sucks. At times being married has felt like an additional burden, on top of the illness, but it’s not. Being married to the love of my life is an anti-burden, even when it’s not easy.

I remember one time, before we were married, when we were in the middle of an eight hundred mile drive, it was incredibly hot out, the car didn’t have air conditioning, and we were stuck in stationary traffic. We hadn’t been together for very long, but I said to him that I’d rather be in that car with him than anywhere else with anyone else. And the same sentiment is true now.

One part of that is how well he takes care of me in a narrow sense pertaining to my illness; but that aspect is actually really complicated. I don’t want him to be my caretaker who happens to be my husband; I want him to be my partner. And partnerships include care-taking, but aren’t centered on it.

I’m unable to work right now, so I spend my days at home. But when he gets home from work, no matter how I’ve been feeling that day I know that I’ll spend some portion of that evening laughing, even when I can’t imagine that being possible. In our vows, we promised to “laugh together in the good times and struggle together through the bad.” But over the last year I’ve learned how important it is to make there be good times even during the “bad times,” even if they only last a few minutes, and that when laughing and struggling are not mutually exclusive the struggling becomes much easier.

It also turns out that having someone to take care of, even when (or maybe especially when) I need to be taken care of, is a great thing. I get so much satisfaction out of doing small things to help him, and even doing chores is more satisfying because it’s about making him happy. Yes, it feels impossible sometimes, and I have to pick and choose when and how I can actually help; but when I’m able to surprise him with a clean house, an empty laundry hamper, or anything else, I feel so much better about myself. And when he’s feeling unwell, I somehow manage to get the energy to take care of him, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

And most importantly, it gives me a future to look forward to and to work towards. I don’t know what the course of my illness will be, but I do know what the rest of my life will look like: years and years of partnership and companionship, of developing routines and tradition, and of fulfilling our marriage vows. And really, with that as a baseline, no matter how hard things are now and in the future, I actually have a pretty wonderful life.

Photo by: Julie Randall from the APW Flickr Pool

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  • Lturtle

    As a newlywed who is coming to terms with Multiple Sclerosis, I really identify with this post. So much of it sounds like my life! I want to “exactly” the whole thing. Thank you for writing beautifully about the hard stuff, and the good stuff that’s mixed in.

  • Chronically Ill Bride

    Oh, thank you thank you thank you for this, you brave brave person. This is what I hope the best of me sounds like.

  • RG

    Another newlywed here….coming to terms with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Thanks for a great post. It’s oddly comforting to know that are others dealing with similar, sh*tty, things.

    • I was diagnosed with RA the same year we got married. It’s been an interesting learning curve… in all aspects of the disease. How, when I felt the absolute worst, I had to learn to take the WHOLE vow “in sickness and health” and have enough humility to let him help, for instance. And, like the author said, finding some kind of hopeful joy, even in the struggles.

      Sorry to hear about the RA – keep your head up and be honest with yourself and your partner… they will inevitably know enough about your health to validate and back up any of the doubts you may have in dealing with the frustrations of the disease.

      Stupid RA.

      • RG

        Thanks for responding. I started having symptoms right around the time we moved in together, and was diagnosed about 2 weeks before we got engaged. We’ve now been married for 6 months, so most of our ‘committed’ relationship has happened concurrently with the RA learning curve. Fortunately my RA is relatively mild, and kept in check well with meds, but it’s still scary, painful, and makes a lot of things more complicated. Especially the discussions revolving around getting pregnant and how that affects meds/symptoms…sigh. Fortunately he has been great through it all. Best wishes to you 

  • Autumn A.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. I like your line about laughter with the struggle, maybe I’ll put that in our vows.

  • Mary

    Another newlywed dealing with illness here- I got diagnosed with thyroid cancer after being married for 3 months in the fall of 2010. Having such a challenge so early in our marriage given me a whole new perspective on how lucky I am to have married the man I did. Sometimes we deal with what feels like unfair rough stuff early in marriage, as newlyweds. Wishing you and all couples dealing with health issues all the grace and strength in the world as you navigate your health needs going forwards.

    • LW

      Mary, as someone who was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer 9 months in to marriage, I hear you on the “unfair rough stuff” and also am so happy I married the man I did. His outlook and perspective on things was SO different from mine, but helpful in dealing with the future and uncertainiy of the situation. I hope your recovery is going well. And to the post author, thank you for sharing – this was beautifully written.

      • Mary

        Hi LW, glad to know I’m not alone in the newlywed thyroid cancer survivor with an awesome husband club. :) I’m doing pretty well now considering, and we’ve made up for the dramatic first year 9 months of our marriage by doing a lot of traveling and other fun stuff in the last year. My last scan showed no evidence of disease, so we keep hoping for that to continue… I hope your recovery is going well too!

  • Kristin

    I really love this post. Thank you!

  • You are so totally right about the needing good times even when things are bad.

    My DH is the one reason my depression hasnt completely overwhelmed me this time around (and it has been 5 years since the last bout – before I met DH).
    He keeps me sane, makes me laugh, and gives me someone to look after and think of even on the bad days. And on the really bad days, he steps up to the plate and does the things that need to be done to keep the house running, while also getting me back on track.

  • While our first year of marriage didn’t include serious illness, it was hard for other reasons. I really like how you brought it back to the vows and making good times during otherwise tough times. And your line “Being married to the love of my life is an anti-burden” is perfection.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I especially love the part about care-taking without it being the center of the relationship. My husband and I were married in March (and 3 months pregnant) and we lost our son 5 months later, stillborn at 30 weeks. He has been by my side nonstop and I don’t know how I could get through the loss without him nearby. The laughter is the best part of my day, thanks to him.

  • Cass

    “In our vows, we promised to “laugh together in the good times and struggle together through the bad.” But over the last year I’ve learned how important it is to make there be good times even during the “bad times,” even if they only last a few minutes, and that when laughing and struggling are not mutually exclusive the struggling becomes much easier.”

    This, so much. My husband and I have been together for six years (today!) and I’ve been in pain for the past five and a half. Within in the first year of our marriage, I had spinal fusion surgery and the week I spent in the hospital were literally the worst in my entire life because I was so incredibly sick (nearly died because of the anesthesia, bad news bears). Depsite that, I still find that I have fond memories of the hours my husband spent by my bedside. It’s like the Bruce Cockburn song says, “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”.

  • This post was so sweet, just made me weep that you are facing this struggle so early in your life together. My sweet guy sat with me and hugged me and let me blubber all over him through a devastating miscarriage as well as a terrible diagnosis for our son and this support and his just Being There was so, so wonderful in the face of the unthinkable. May you both have years to love together.

  • Granola

    Thanks for writing this. Just this morning I was feeling frustrated about trying to “balance” a marriage and a career and I said offhandedly to my mom “This is why people wait to get married – they focus on their career first and get this stuff together.” I needed the reminder that marriage doesn’t detract from life or add another struggle – it brings great joy and comfort, even when its hard.

    With that said, I wish you a speedy and full recovery, whatever form that takes for you. I’ll keep your sage post in mind for those inevitable panic moments as my wedding nears.

  • Laura Mc

    Again, I can’t stop myself from commenting (twice in one day!) because these posts hit too close to home.

    Struggling with illness has been very difficult for me– my fiance and I have been together 9 years, and I was diagnosed 4 years into our relationship. I often feel awful because I feel like he was tricked thinking our relationship would be one way and then BOOM– everything changed even though we had been together so long. I keep trying to get back to “the old me” pre-illness. And I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that this is not a reality. I, as and individual and we as a couple are forever changed and can’t go back to the good old days, and he is so much more okay with that than I am.

    And thank you for pointing out that small accomplishments like cleaning a room or emptying the dishwasher are huge victories to help me feel like I am a contributer in this relationship!

    I wish you all the best.

  • Richelle

    Good for you! Brave woman.

    One of my favorite quotes: True love doubles your joys and halves your sorrows. So, so true

  • Pippi

    Thank you for this. I am a newlywed and have had some health problems in the last few years which mean my husband and I know it’s likely a diagnosis of a chronic disease is coming. I so desperately don’t want him to have to be my caretaker. It’s good to be reminded that there’s room for good times in a life marked by illness and that all kinds of contributions are valuable in a marriage.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    The whole thing was great, but especially this: “At times being married has felt like an additional burden, on top of the illness, but it’s not. Being married to the love of my life is an anti-burden, even when it’s not easy.”

    I’m not dealing with anything serious or chronic, but as our relationship grows, I realize I must adapt my coping mechanisms to having a partner, a husband. Most of my coping mechanisms for stress, sadness, frustration – all the negative emotions – involve sleep and other activities that just empty my mind. But when there’s this wonderful man in the next room who just wants me to be happy, those aren’t the best methods of feeling better. We must learn how to cheer each other up.

    Our latest lesson? Talking can sometimes be bad for the relationship, but cuddling never is.

    • Cuddling is one of the best relationship salves ever. I swear it’s part of the glue that holds mine together.

    • Ashley

      “Talking can sometimes be bad for the relationship, but cuddling never is” – SO TRUE! I am a huge talker and I always want to talk everything through but sometimes I need to learn to just shut up and cuddle, it makes such a huge difference. Since my partner is a non-talker, this is definitely something I’ve learned from him.

  • Jennie

    I appreciate both posts today. I’m on the other side, my partner has chronic illness and has almost since the beginning of our relationship. There are times I miss not doing things we might do if not for his situation but I would far rather be with him than have more freedom.

    For you strong women dealing with chronic illness, I’m glad you have loving and caring partners. They love you for who you are; the illness may be a challange in your relationship but your illness is not the relationship. Like others, I love what you say about laughing in difficult times. Laughter and love may not be able to cure everything, but it helps, especially in times of darkness.

  • Emily

    Such a beautiful post. Thank you for finding the strength to share your story.

    I’m of the pre-engaged set (celebrating 5 years with my college sweetheart and love of my life this Friday!). New Year’s Eve 2011 he broke the news to me that, while visiting his parents for Christmas, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was such a shock, especially because he has always lived so healthfully and ‘juvenile diabetes’ is typically diagnosed in children.

    The past year has required a lot of readjusting to a new normal. Every day, every meal is changed, forever now — for one, he will always need insulin injections before eating [except when I make him virtually carb-free carrot cupcakes for Valentine’s Day :) ]. With a healthy low-carb diet life can be good and pretty damn close to the old normal — but it will almost certainly be shorter, and it will always be different than it was.

    The ongoing process of adjusting to a new, uncertain future is scary — but so, so much better when your love is by your side. Wishing you many years of laughter and joy.

  • Moz

    I wish you all the best and hope you come to manage your illness, if a recovery is not possible.

  • Seraphine

    I’m in this situation too (married in the last year and dealing with illness issues). Thanks for this post–it was a perfect reminder of the things that I need to remain focused on.

  • This is so true. We have gone through health issues and job loss in the first 18 months of our marriage, and it has been a gift to confirm that yeah, you got a good one. We are always told that love and romance should come first, but it’s the practical, sensible (and not so exciting!) parts of a relationship that will carry you through the tough times.

    I can’t believe I used to be envious of the girl who would post on Facebook about the latest shopping spree her boyfriend sent her on, stating that he was the best boyfriend in the world. A husband who will change the dressing on your breast abscess when you’re too frightened to look at it, and then will kiss you and tell you that you’re beautiful is worth twenty surprise trips to New York.