March 18, 2011

Relationships: Love Under Conditions

In life, relationships are tested by a number of factors and circumstances.  Time and time again, life throws us a curveball and how we handle it and the way our friends, family, or significant other respond determines the course of the relationship.  For those living with chronic illness, our medical condition forces an ongoing evaluation of our coping skills and the support skills of our peers.  Whether we like it or not, hard times give insight into who our true friends are.  Sometimes the person you thought loved you can’t handle the situation at hand and backs out.  And sometimes, the most unlikely person steps up to the plate when we least expect it.  

The best way I can distinguish between both experiences is recognizing that there are fundamentally two different types of relationships: unconditional and conditional.  Unconditional relationships are what we strive for.  They are enduring, life-long, and can outlast the most seemingly impossible challenges.  These are the relationships that possess a unique bond that allows love to exist unconditionally. It should be noted that unconditional love doesn’t mean that concessions and sacrifices aren’t made; we can’t get everything we need from just one person.  However, we always love the other person even though we might not always like them.  In contrast, conditional relationships are those that only exist under certain circumstances.  While these relationships may end up in disappointment or fail to stand the test of time, they hold great value.  Examples of conditional relationships include exes, friendships that ended in fights, or people who just grew apart with time.  

Relationships for people with chronic illness pose unique challenges.  A flare up, a new symptom/diagnosis, or a particularly scary event can be the condition that determines whether the love between two people is conditional or unconditional.  This realization is hard to accept because it feels so damn unfair.  We don’t decide to be sick, yet we are at risk of getting rejected for it.  It’s a vulnerable place to be.  We want to present our best self to the world but that isn’t always an option.  Sometimes being in pain can’t be disguised as easily as we would like, or we can’t be as available or giving as we were when were feeling better.  Some people view our inconsistencies as weaknesses that they can’t accept and the relationship can’t endure the hardship.  

How do we confront the variety of possible “deal breakers” without being consumed by fear of having relationships?  Well, at the heart of all successful partnerships is mutual understanding.  Both parties need to have a strong sense of what the other person is willing to accept and live with.  My best friends are the ones who take the time to understand my condition.  When they look at me they see my strengths, not my weaknesses.  They love me because of what I can offer, not what I lack.  They see me as Marah, a girl with many qualities, not Marah the “sick girl”.  In turn, I accept them for who they are and try to offer my support to the best of my abilities.  When you are in a relationship with me (romantic or not), you get the whole package – the good and the bad. 

I think the poem “Reason, Season, Lifetime” best sums it up:

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON,

it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.

It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Questions to Consider:

What are your “deal breakers”?

How do you confront the fear or rejection?

How does chronic illness present challenges to relationships?  What can we do to overcome them?

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