“sharing the veto”: marriage and chronic illness part 2


I love talking about marriage. Though Kevin and I haven’t been married all that long, it’s been an eventful few years — ultimately forcing us to determine who we were going to be as a couple in some pretty hard circumstances. It’s been a crash-course.

We’re still learning lots, but we’ve definitely found some gems along the way. I briefly shared some of my favorite marriage lessons in the post, “In Sickness and in Health”: Marriage and Chronic Illness. Recently, another gem has been stirring in my heart, and I want to share it with you in hope that it is helpful: Kevin and I share veto power.

My friends, the spouse who is sick is constantly having to assess their body to understand if what they’re doing is smart or not. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sat in the car outside our destination (that we just drove 40 minutes to get to), and I have to decide if I’m well enough to go in. If you’re anything like me, there’s a lot of back-and-forthness about these decisions. The desire vs. disappointment. The maybe-foolish-but-it-might-be-okay choice vs. the wise-and-not-so-fun choice. It’s a fact of life that the sick spouse has to make judgment calls constantly, and hopefully the healthy spouse is understanding and helpful when the sad decision to switch plans is made.

But, there’s a great opportunity to share the decision-making here. It’s natural to assume that because the sick person knows their body best, if they say they’re “fine”, then everything is okay. But I don’t think that’s always true, or at least it’s not for me. Sometimes I decide to push myself anyway, because I’m stubbornly insistent: “This is what I’m doing!” Or, sometimes I don’t even know that I’m pushing too hard, but Kevin can see that it is a bad idea. Kevin sees a lot that I don’t see. He’s a good judge also, because He knows me.

In my heart, I long ago decided to give Kevin “veto power”. Just like I can decide that I need to go home, he can decide that I need to go home. I can often spot the concern in his eyes, and in those moments I like to ask him, “Is my decision regarding ______________ making you uncomfortable?” Sometimes he says “no”, and sometimes he says “yes”…

If it is a “yes”, the conversation then proceeds one of two ways: 1) I decide immediately that it’s important to me to listen to Kevin’s concern (whether or not I’m convinced) and back-off of whatever thing I’m trying to do, or 2) I explain my reasoning behind pushing myself, and then we decide together if it’s worth it or not. Generally, we err on the side of caution. If something is “iffy”, then it’s probably best to go home — for my health’s sake, for Kevin’s stress levels, and honestly for the good of the people around me who might be worried when I hit “the wall”.

Kevin has as much veto power as I do. He doesn’t expect it from me, but I want to give it to him. It’s a decision that I willingly make, so that he can feel more comfortable. As awful as it is being sick, being the healthy spouse is heart-breaking. Healthy spouses feel powerless as they try to care for and comfort their sick spouse. I don’t want Kevin to feel powerless. I especially don’t want him to feel powerless watching me be reckless with my body’s limits. I want him to feel like we’re a team. I want him to know that I take his concerns seriously. Yes, it’s my body, but it’s also his. We are “one”. We are “Team Albert”.

It’s always disappointing to stay home from the wedding, leave the party early, or turn around half-way to your destination. But I honestly can tell you I’ve been happy with every decision to relent based upon Kevin’s perspective. He can see things I can’t. He has saved me from over-extending myself so many times. When I’m stuck in brain-fog and can’t decide, he can recognize that’s a red flag. I trust him to care for me. I love him and want to honor his desire to keep me safe.

My friends, oh if you do this, your marriage will have many happy, safe, rich moments. The disappointment of not getting to do what was is in your heart to do, is replaced by happiness in getting to listen to your spouse’s heart to love and protect you. And in return they get to feel heard. It’s a win-win. It won’t be the “win” you expected for that day, but I guarantee you that it will be a satisfying “win” for your marriage.

I wish you great joy and deep moments of listening and comfort with your spouse.

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