On the Wearing of Wedding Rings {Living with a Spouse in Chronic Pain}


I spent this past weekend away, four days of sharing space and words and breath with some of the best and most kindred friends I've ever had the delight of knowing.  We fed each other food and wine and truth, shattered bottles in catharsis, pressed our bodies close. 

We talked about many things, but what stuck with me the most was the concept trying on new things, experimenting.  This is my fearless year, and I have tried on a great many things.  I have taken off perhaps even more.  So this notion is not new to me.  I have become quite practiced.

But what I played with this weekend felt anything but familiar.

This weekend, I took off my wedding ring.

* * *

My husband and I are coming up on seven years of marriage.  How has it been so long?  And yet, not very long at all.  

And regardless of perception of time, those years have been full -- of hard stuff.  Good stuff, too, but the bad stuff has been Very Bad, and Very Big.  Eating disorder, stillbirth, crippling depression and anxiety, a newborn struggling to thrive . . . and those are just the things I've written about here.

My husband has been grappling with his own set of Bad Things.  Mainly, living for years with undiagnosed chronic pain, as well as other undiagnosed health issues.  And I'll be the first to admit that I haven't dealt with this facet of our lives very gracefully.  

I never understood chronic pain until I found myself living with one who lives under that heavy weight.  It is mind-boggling, impossible, and horrible in its invisibility, its lack of external physical markers.  So often those with chronic pain look completely normal, making it hard for those of us who don't struggle to fathom the depths of their challenges.

It is made all the worse in my husband's situation by the fact that he doesn't have a diagnosis.  Fibromyalgia,  chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, and more -- none of the symptoms line up, nor do any of the treatments work.  He's aching in the dark, and no method or drug can reach him.

* * *

We have also been doing quite a bit of growing this past year, both of us.  No doubt that at least part of that journeying was catalyzed by the above Bad Things: my dark night of the soul, his realization that he had shifted out of a lifetime of evangelical Christian beliefs into atheism.  My husband and I are different people now, exquisitely, terrifyingly, starkly different people from the ones we were seven years ago. 

This is not a bad thing.  To live is to grow, and if you're not growing, changing -- well, I would invite you to consider whether you are truly alive.

But our marriage is struggling as a result of our growth.  We have grown in opposite directions.  And again, this is not a bad thing, but it does bring us to a peculiar place, where we have become strangers to one another.  We need to date one another again, to meet each other anew.

* * *

We promised, on our wedding day, for oneness in sickness and in health.  And I honor that commitment.  

But we also need to rescue our floundering relationship, for each other and for our son.

And -- we can't.  Because of the pain.  Because my husband cannot (or struggles to) do the simplest of bonding activities: a walk around the block, grabbing a bite to eat, snuggling on the couch.  

We are faced with the seemingly impossible task of strengthening our bonds when one of us finds simply sitting a challenge.

Where are we to go from here?

* * *

I am living with a man that I love, but I am alone in our home, all of those needs one can reasonably expect to be met in marriage going achingly unfulfilled.

I rage.  I weep.  I rage again.

How can we rebuild when our hands are tied?

More and more, our conversations have turned toward separation.  Perhaps it would help, we say.  Perhaps it would give him a better chance for healing.  Perhaps it would tell me whether my deepening depression is born from our circumstances, or is sourced solely in my self.  If it's the latter, leaving would do nothing.

Some days I can't imagine leaving my husband.  
Some days I can't imagine not leaving.

* * *

And so this weekend, when I was folded safely into the care of kindred women, I slipped off my wedding ring and tucked it into my bag.  I was trying separation on by taking the ring of my commitment off.

I thought it would feel freeing, delicious.  I thought I would never be able to put my ring back on, that I would go home laughing and sure and determined to separate, and --

I lasted five minutes.  

My naked ring finger screamed, crawled for the familiar titanium band.  My already shredding heart threatened to rend well and truly in half, beyond repair. No amount of snuggling from my soul sisters could distract me.

I fled to my room, chest heaving in relief as I slid that silvery circle back onto its place on my finger

Because it belongs there, whatever the hell that might mean.  

* * *

There is no neat and happy ending to this post.  I came home, glowing from the retreat, to discover a sick man.  He was far more ill than I have ever, ever seen him in all our years together.  

It is now three days since my homecoming and my lips have yet to be kissed.  This is the reality of living with a spouse with [undiagnosed] chronic pain.

I don't know how to navigate All This Shit, only that in spite of our frustration and grief and sense of incapacitation, neither my husband nor I wish to divorce.  

But that doesn't make the staying easy.   It doesn't ease the loneliness, or the fear.  It doesn't dry my almost constantly flowing tears. 

I am here.  That is all I know.  And that is something, I hope, although I have no idea what.

I have been searching for quite some time now for resources on living with a spouse with [undiagnosed] chronic pain.  And -- there is nothing.  Nothing that I can find, anyway (let me know if you have something, I'd love to read it!).  There is quite a bit of support for those who are actually suffering from the pain, but not for their partners. So I am writing this aspect of our/my story, to begin to stitch together the beginnings this very needed kind of resource.  Watch this link for future posts on this topic.

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