Thursday, November 8, 2012

Unmet Commitments and the Erosion of Trust

This morning, Ma'ikwe and I woke up together in the same bed for the first time since Oct 15. That was a long stretch without rain. Naturally (given that we're both process wonks) we spent most of our time between eye opening and our first warm beverage discussing our relationship.

This is a tender topic. Ma'ikwe has been struggling with chronic Lyme the past three years, and the trip we are on now (attending a facilitation training in Ohio) is the first one we've taken together since January (other than to see her doctor). While my extensive travel allows me to make the money that supports the marriage, it means that I'm away from Ma'ikwe when she needs help—both domestic and emotional—thereby straining our bonds.

It's a Catch-22 where my attending to one need is inextricably linked to neglecting others. While navigating this dynamic would be hard enough, it's worse than that. We're also facing additional challenges:

o  As she wrestles with long-term debilitation and near-constant muscle and joint ache, it's damn hard for Ma'ikwe to do meaningful work. This limitation translates into an erosion of her self-esteem, and she has found herself starting to resent that I have choices she doesn't (simply because I'm not sick). 

o  Chronic Lyme (as distinct from acute Lyme, which most often can be treated successfully with serious doses of antibiotics if taken soon after onset) can have a profound impact on personality. While some of these changes may be reversible with the restoration of health, we don't know: a) what portion, if any, of what's going of for her now in terms of a shift in how she feels about our partnership is due to the disease; b) whether those feelings will change even if her health returns; or c) whether she will ever recover her health—20% of chronic Lyme patients don't. That's a lot of ifs.

o  Part of what's hard for Ma'ikwe is that she lives in a house that's not finished being built. It happened that the onset of her Lyme symptoms coincided with the start of work on her home at Dancing Rabbit in 2009. While that project is pretty far along, she doesn't yet have running water and that's a hardship that is irrevocably linked for her with my failure to complete the work on her cistern and water system. At the outset of the project I promised to install the plumbing and wiring and the work is still not finished.

Generalizing from this one constant burr in her saddle, her continuing need to haul water has become the poster child for the way I make promises I don't keep, and the way I prioritize other commitments ahead of the ones I make to her. Essentially, Ma'ikwe is questioning why she should stay in a relationship where her basic needs are so little supported by her partner. Ouch!

To be clear, I don't fail on all my commitments, or even most. Yet it's true that I regularly take on more than I can handle. Overfilling my plate means that things are frequently falling on the floor, and Ma'ikwe is tired of seeing her needs trod upon as a casualty of what she considers a character flaw. While there remain good things about our relationship, right now they are under siege. She's wondering if there's any realistic prospect of our manifesting enough time together to repair the damage. 

To her credit, Ma'ikwe is sharing these heavy thoughts and feelings with me while there remains an opportunity to work through them. But, just as with her struggle with Lyme, there's no guarantee of a happy ending: there's only a chance. It's up to us both to make the most if it.


Rodney said...

This all sounds very familiar. I am still in a partnership with a woman, Barbara. We married in 1984 (I think), had a daughter, Crystal,in 1987, separated in 1998, divorced in 2002 and now (after a lot of water under the bridge) both live under separate roofs as the legal owners of the property we bought when we were pregnant with our daughter. What is most familiar is the part about disease/disability that you are dealing with. Barbara is legally blind (retinopathy of prematurity) which has profoundly impacted her and consequently at times we have experienced serious erosions of trust. I fully appreciate your concluding sentence that "there's no guarantee of a happy ending; there's only a chance." And "It's up to us both to make the most of it." Rod Herold

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear all this Laird. While I keep in mind that I'm only hearing your perceptions of this situation, I can sympathize. I've been in a long term relationship with a man who struggles with a long term, no cure in sight, degenerative disease. At my worse, I felt reduced to being a meal ticket to someone who's main mantra seemed to be "you don't meet my needs" despite working two or three jobs to keep a roof over our heads. The real ugly truth is that chronic illness, combined with the effects of medication, can really distort perceptions and thought patterns not just for the patient but for the loved ones as well. While no couple should be forced to stay together (how un-egalitarian)because of finances, I do think your contributions of providing your wife with her own home and supporting her in her lifestyle choices, as documented in this blog, should be commended. It's been my experience that trying to manage a long term illness with long sustained support in a back to land ecovillage in the middle of nowhere can be tough. As for the practical issue of running water, where is the community at large? I thought your partner lived somewhere well known for their "Wexers" and work parties?