On a recent evening, my wife and I were sitting in the living room, both of us reading and sipping hot chocolate before we ended our day. She, snuggled in a dark pink sweater and wrapped in her light pink afghan, caught my eye as I sat in my chair. She smiled.
“I enjoy the peace of our life together,” she said, “and I enjoy knowing I don’t have to worry about you leaving me.”
At first I thought she was talking in reference to the novel she was reading.
I raised my eyebrow. “I didn’t know you had ever worried about me leaving,” I offered.
“I did. Not a lot, but I did. It was right after I was diagnosed with MS.”
I remembered her telling me about a lady in her MS support group whose husband left her after they learned she had MS. At the time I thought she was simply sharing information. And I remembered (about that time) she also mentioned she had read in a book about spouses who leave their partners after learning of an MS diagnosis.
I’d like to think my commitment to her has always been so blatant and obvious that she never would have wondered about me leaving her. But then again, after she heard of a husband leaving his wife, after reading a chapter in a book about it and after living with me and my disbelief about the neurologist’s diagnosis, I can see how the fear of me leaving may have felt very real.
We’ll soon return to our honeymoon cabin to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I’ve never considered leaving. She’s been the center of my world and has always held my heart. She’s God’s best gift to me and is His most constant and present expression of grace for me. Theologians may quibble about that, but I have no doubt that God loves me: He gave me her.
While I wish she had never experienced the fear of being abandoned, I think I understand the emotional dynamics. And I’m certainly glad she navigated her way through her fear and enjoys our relationship without concerns.
How did I miss her fear? I think it was because in those early months following her diagnosis, I spent a lot of time trying to do what guys tend to do most when they feel like they’re losing control … I tried to fix things. I focused so much on the practical things required for us to handle MS well that I overlooked her fear. I spent so much time being a cheerleader that I missed her concerns.
(Besides, if I’m learning to give shots in her stomach, buying books about MS, and bumping up my life insurance so she’ll be taken care of if I die first, how on earth could she think I’d consider leaving?)
While I made good plans for the future, I missed some of the important emotional content she was experiencing. I assumed she, like me, looked into the future and saw us always together. But it wasn’t so clear for her then. I’m glad it is now.
I know husbands can disappear when their wives are diagnosed with significant illness. (And some wives leave when their husband is the patient.) Just this past week, I heard from a friend about a woman who’s husband left her after she learned she has cancer. It happens often enough that it may even be normal for someone who is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or an other chronic illness to wonder if her or his spouse is going to remember the “in sickness” part of the marriage vows as well as they remember, “and in health.”
Even partners in solid marriages can be fearful of abandonment. If you think you need to reassure your partner that you’re in it for the long haul, do it.