"...to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part."
These are standard marriage vows that we are all familiar with. But without years of experience or closely observing the marriages of relatives, many of us do not understand these vows beyond a theoretical level.
I am not married, but I have been with my boyfriend for 4.5 years and for a long time have treated the relationship like a marriage. I have never taken those vows, but I do approach my relationship with that seriousness. Some of you may know from my post history that my boyfriend has been extremely ill for the past two years. I will not get into the medical details, but this effectively meant that right after finishing his Master's, he had to move out of our apartment back in with his parents, was in unrelenting, excruciating pain, and was almost completely bedridden for the majority of that time. I decided from the beginning that I wanted to stick it out with him and that I had faith in his ability to pull through despite no diagnosis from the multitude of doctors he's seen. He has been improving significantly for probably six months, but this post is about the experience of staying with someone who is at their physical and spiritually most vulnerable and what it taught me.
- You quickly learn how committed you are
Everyone around me expressed surprise and either serious judgement or praise at my staying with him, commenting that most girls would have left at the first sign that he wasn't getting better. This came as a surprise to me, because I had been approaching our relationship as a permanent fixture in my life. This also proved to him that I meant to stick by his side.
- You learn how you both deal with stress
During this whole situation, usually he was far more composed than I was. He would have occasional flares of anger and impatience as well as a fair amount of detached suffering, but usually he tried to keep his mind off of the pain and act as normal as possible. I, on the other hand, was a wreck for a while, randomly bursting into tears and panicking, often leaning on him for emotional support (which he didn't always have to patience to give me). Eventually, I learned that I needed to develop stress-relief and coping mechanisms that didn't dump on him. I took daily walks, got a new hobby, called my friends and home more often, and even took to taking time alone to just cry and let it all out once a week. It was much easier to deal with the stress of watching someone you love suffer when I had these coping mechanisms.
- You get a crash course in nurturing
I am not a mother nor do I have younger siblings, so a lot of this was new to me. His mom did help to take care of him, but I did most of the nursing during this entire time. I brought him food, made sure he took pills on time, brought him changes of clothes, emptied pee bottles (luckily he was always able to force himself out of bed to do the more serious business), took him to doctor's appointments, wrote letters to disability officers, and even gave him a sponge bath one time. I would sit by his side and scratch his head or back to calm his nerves for hours on end. I genuinely never minded doing any of this because I love him and knew he was doing his absolute best to make it through. I also had the challenge of not shaming him for needing these things, because of course his masculinity took a huge hit during this time.
- You witness the sick person's level of perseverance and optimism (or lack thereof)
He has put on an insanely brave face this entire time. 95% of the time he simply withstood the pain and was convinced that he would beat it and not let it get the best of him. This encouraged all of us around him and let on to the vast levels of endurance and strength he has as a person. I truly believe that this allowed me to continue to respect him and hold him in the highest regard rather than losing respect for him like RP theory would probably have predicted.
- You learn that ultimately your choices are up to you and that you don't have to justify yourself to anyone
As I mentioned before, I got both judgement and praise for staying with him. Many people thought I was far too young (23 when it began) to be dealing with this, and while I agreed at the untimeliness, I wasn't about to throw away the relationship because of it. I used to care a lot more about what others thought of my relationship, but through this process I learned that my choices were my own, and not everyone needs to understand or agree with them.
Side note: if any of you have read my post history, you might have been under the impression that we had broken up. At the time I was suffering from serious mental health issues and was not exactly in touch with reality. I will not get into the details, but that too has since been resolved.
Edit: Thank you to the overwhelmingly positive comments! I just wanted to share what I've learned, and y'all have been so supportive.