Monday, January 25, 2016

What Does Love Look Like in CancerLand?

Most of us have a sense of where boundaries are in a good relationship. It’s always imperfect, but we have the idea of balancing dependence and autonomy. Our boundaries are permeable and we can go away and come back, and we can give our partner both space and attention as needed.

But then cancer arrives and we get muddled. Our boundaries—and our relationships --go to hell. Sometimes we are praised as good caregivers even as we are sacrificing the autonomy that made the relationship great pre-cancer. What’s a wife/lover/girlfriend to do?

How do we keep a relationship strong when one half of it is very weak? How do we keep a
separate sense of identity even as our partner, medical professionals and maybe even our friends are celebrating (or nudging us toward) a dependent role as caregiver?

It is not easy. But I knew early on that I wanted more than John’s physical survival; I also wanted our sexy, happy, and intellectually stimulating marriage to survive. And that meant finding the line between caregiving and codependence.

Here is a quote that I have to read again and again. It’s a great reminder and antidote to the “teaching”, controlling, and all manner of codependency I am so tempted to tumble into. This is Scott Peck on genuine love: 

“A major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved. The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity. Moreover the genuine lover always respects and even encourages this separateness and the unique individuality of the beloved. Failure to perceive and respect this separateness is exceedingly common however and the cause of much suffering.”
--M. Scott Peck, MD
I do not want to be exceedingly common.

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