What It Truly Means To Love Someone Unconditionally

Photo: Christine Suhan
What It Truly Means To Love Someone Unconditionally

Yesterday, as I stood in the freezer aisle of the grocery store gazing at a ridiculously overpriced package of chocolate ice cream bars, I felt my heart sink into my stomach. I don't visit that particular grocery store often, and when I do it's usually a quick run in to grab an essential item.

Ice cream, unfortunately, isn't considered a necessity in our house (although it should be). With a tight feeling in my chest and sweaty palms gripping the shopping cart, I remembered the last time I found myself in that particular aisle looking at those same chocolate bars.

It was about nine months ago when I gathered my keys and stormed out of the house with a sick feeling in my gut. I was sure my marriage was over. My husband and I are no strangers to marital conflict but this time felt different.

I called my mom from the car, crying. "I just can't stay married to someone whose love for me is conditional," I managed to blurt out between sobs.

"No, you can't," she replied. "What happened?"

"It's not his fault, I understand. I would leave me, too." Buckets of tears continued to fall from my eyes.

"What do you mean? What did he say?" I could tell my mom was upset now, too.

"It's my sickness. He said if it weren't for our children, he would have left years ago. I asked him if when he vowed to love me in sickness and health, he was lying, and he said he thought there'd be more health than sickness."

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I paused for a moment to let my mom respond and could hear my dad shouting in the background. He was livid.

"Where are you now? I'm going to call him." My mom was just as mad.

"I'm going to get ice cream," I replied. I don't drink alcohol anymore so when sh*t hits the fan, sugar is my saving grace.

My mom and I ended our conversation as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot. I don't remember walking from my car to the ice cream aisle but I will never forget the gut-wrenching feeling I had as a stood in front of the chocolate ice cream bars, wishing-needing-hoping that my husband would understand.

When my husband and I met, I was a healthy, active young woman. Since we have been married, however, he has watched my body and brain change in several ways.

First, with three back-to-back-to-back horrible pregnancies. I had severe hyperemesis gravidarum and was in and out of hospitals with each of them. The pregnancies were followed by scary episodes of postpartum OCD and depression, the last of which left permanent scars on my brain and on our relationship.

Most recently over the past two years, my health has been plummeting and I have been diagnosed with four different chronic illnesses. I have a handful of other debilitating symptoms that are still in the process of being evaluated. Our marriage has, undoubtedly, been tested by all of this.

All I wanted from my husband was for him to understand. All he's wanted was for me to be fixed.

Before my illnesses were diagnosed, my husband constantly questioned the legitimacy of my symptoms. One time, he even told me he thought I was making all of this up. I couldn't understand why he would think I would make up such a miserable existence; he couldn't understand why doctors couldn't find anything wrong.

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His inability to understand how I was feeling caused us both to become resentful. He was mad that I couldn't take care of the house and the kids like I used to, and I was mad that he was mad. It was an endless cycle of bickering and blow-ups.  

I have a very close friend who began her walk with chronic illness several years prior to mine. I remember her saying to me, "It's normal. He will come to a place of acceptance and will no longer be mad at you. It will happen."

I love her dearly but I didn't believe her. I had little hope left for my marriage. In the back of my mind, I just knew my husband would leave.

Yesterday, as my heart sank remembering the day I thought it was all over, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It took a while for my husband to get there but over the past few months, there has been a shift in our relationship. My friend was right — my husband did come to a place of acceptance and our relationship is now stronger than ever.

Chronic illness used to be the problem that separated us. It used to be the wedge between us, the ball of fire that we were constantly throwing at each other. Now, it's what unites us. It ties us together.

Photo: Courtesy of author

My husband no longer gets mad at me when my illnesses are flaring up — we get mad at the illness. Us, together, as a team. We aren't fighting each other anymore, we're fighting the illnesses. Together.

I used to think what I wanted was understanding, but it wasn't. How could he possibly understand? He's never been chronically ill.

What I wanted from him was empathy, something that he's now able to give. But it took time and experience to get there. He had to reach his own bottom with trying to diagnose and fix me. He had to come to his own understanding of what it meant for him to be married to someone who's chronically ill. And I had to let him have that process.

Our marriage isn't all roses now. We still fight at times, but we don't fight like we used to. We both have a deep understanding of what it means to be in this for better or worse, regardless of what worse looks like.

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Christine Suhan is a writer and her works have appeared on Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Elle, Marie Claire, Redbook. Esquire, Scary Mommy, Elephant Journal and several other publications.