Photo: Dennis Gardner

For my husband and I, the year of 2016 was a doozie. Our circumstances weren’t necessarily unique, and I’m sure couples anywhere could relate to our struggles, but while going through it, we felt isolated and often overwhelmed. In other words, it completely sucked. As I stand firmly in 2017, I do look back at 2016 with a sense of gratitude because despite the struggles, at least I had the year. I was alive and living life, which in itself, is truly a blessing.

In 2016 we faced stressed relationships, illness, and financial instability. Each individually is a feat to overcome, but put them all together within 12 months and you are on the verge of a crisis. But the upside of it all is that we made it. That’s right, despite being faced with stressors that could possibly end a marriage, we proudly made out like gangbusters. (And when I say made out, I mean it.)

At the age of 41, and completely out-of-the-blue I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. Having had no symptoms, except for the mass found by my doctor, this came as a total and complete shock. This level of fear is like no other. I know there were times during this ordeal that Brian would silently cry over my shoulder every time we hugged. I lost sleep and weight. The worry of the unknown made me distracted and fragile. Together, and with the help of my family and our friends, we faced surgery and in-patient treatment, all with positive results, thankfully. What was once acute, has shifted now to the chronic maintenance of living life without a Thyroid. Along the way, the universe somehow decided that this all wasn’t quite enough for me. On top of it all, resulting from surgery and treatment, I’ve been blessed with the neck of an 85-year-old chicken. But, I’m alive and there is joy and celebration in that alone.

Families are by no means perfect and to expect such will only lead to disappointment. But the expectation that family will be there for you during a health emergency seems to be a given. I guess having that expectation is the fault of our own because when a section of family completely ignored my cancer diagnosis, and ignored us in our greatest time of need, we were pained in a way that turns the world as you know it on end.

I was recently blessed with an opportunity to teach at a university, something I had been longing to do for years. The joy and happiness my work brings me makes up for the lack of pay.  What I gained with this job – flexibility and time with my family that is invaluable – I lost in salary. At the same time, Brian was in his second year of a new business venture. Not unlike high school, the sophomore year of a new business sucks just as hard. He faced disappointment, frustration, did I mention disappointment? If the disappointment didn’t do us in, the financial stress surely would.

Our relationship has endured for 13 years of marriage (16 years together), two children, and the year that was 2016. Looking back at how we made it through, the answer is a laser-like focus on each other and what’s really important, along with a well-balanced combination of Love, Laughter, and Lust.

LOVE

I can hear the collective, “Duh?!” but I’d argue that love is complex, it’s not just an emotion or how you feel about someone. As I’ve written before, love is an action;  something you do. Love is not simply saying “I love you;” hardly! Love is thinking about your partner when you buy groceries. I know my marriage thrives because we both go out of our way to make sure the right ice cream cake is in the freezer. During our time of crisis, often when it was the most challenging, is when we worked at it the hardest. This was the time we had to put our words into action and do the things for each other that we both needed.  But heed Patty Smyth’s advice; sometimes love just ain’t enough.

LAUGHTER

You need to laugh, too. Humor is so very important. You have to be able to laugh with the one you love, as laughing with your partner is critical to sustaining a relationship. If you can’t laugh together and even laugh at each other and yourself, you may be in for trouble. Life throws us all some scary stuff and sometimes humor is the only thing to get us through. I remember lying in the hospital bed waiting to go into surgery and I was terrified; but Brian found a way to make me laugh. He broke the stressful ice with my doctors and surgeons through humor. The many times we were faced with having way more month than money, somehow we found something to laugh about.

LUST

You can laugh all you want with someone but if a quick glance in their direction doesn’t make your skirt fly up, caution ahead. Passion should run deep; as in doing crazy things in a moving vehicle kind of deep. A wise woman once told me to always take care of the intimacy. While it’s such an important part of a marriage, it’s often the first thing to go after kids. Nights after we spent a challenging hour talking about the budget (ugh, the budget!) we made time to be together. Even when it was the last thing either one of us wanted to do, we did it anyway. The intimacy helps soften the rough edges, eases the daily frustrations of life, and makes you remember why you fell in love in the first place. Finding dirty clothes on the floor right next to the hamper no longer matters after a great roll in the sack.

The truth about our relationship is that it takes work. As hard as it may seem, it’s during the difficult times that need the most work. It was worth it. Our children were worth it. We were worth it. We loved daily, laughed often, and never forgot about the lust. Somehow we both knew that while these challenges were incredibly difficult, they were temporary. We also knew for sure that we were forever.

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