The movie, “The Theory of Everything,” about the early and mid-lives of Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane, stirs up a lot of discussion about love, commitment, and life, especially marriage, where one spouse has a serious, life-altering, illness. As Hawking’s muscles atrophy from ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), we see the toll it takes on Jane, whose life revolves around caring for her husband and three children.
In my post last week, I raised questions that most people who have a serious and debilitating illness wonder about. Is it possible to make a marriage last? Can two people stay in a committed relationship when one partner must become sole and complete caregiver to the other?
Do the vows, “In sickness and in health” mean forever? Or, just until one partner reaches the breaking point?
Today, another set of questions comes to mind. These revolve around the give and take of a relationship, the way the sick person handles his or her illness and how he or she contributes to the relationship.
Of course, if someone is very physically disabled, that person might not be able to take on half of the work at home, half of the professional salary-earning, or even half of the emotional relationship. But, as I’ve seem so many couples go through break-ups where one partner is very ill with an ongoing illness, I’ve also seen instances where the person with the illness has retreated inwardly, demanding all of their partner and giving nothing, or very little, in return. Even if the sick person is married to a living saint, such lopsidedness in a relationship is very difficult, if not impossible, to sustain. Sheer physical exhaustion, not to mention personal frustration and disappointment, are bound to take their toll.
The relationships that seem to endure are those where the person with the illness makes every effort to encourage their partner to have a part of a life for themselves, too. They look for ways to encourage, help, uplift, and support their beloved. In other words, they go out of themselves and thereby find a way to keep a strained love alive.
As much as we wish to be cared about, we need to send care outward. And as much as we would want to be taken care of in our infirmity, we need to find ways to take care of those who are precious to us, too.
God’s love fills the world and all who are in it. Let it inspire us all – and pass it on!