Redefining Love

On that momentous day when you stand across from the one you love and commit to spend the rest of your lives together, you don’t fully understand the words “for better or for worse.” It’s hard to prepare yourself for things like unexpected death, bankruptcy or brain tumors. But that’s where Jim found himself 10 years after marrying the love of his life: outside an operating room while surgeons removed a tumor from her skull.

I’m sure he was relieved, and even ecstatic, when word arrived that the operation had gone well. The tumor had been removed and his wife would make a full recovery. It wasn’t until a few days later, after his wife had returned home from the hospital, that he noticed that everything was not, in fact, all right. Something was very wrong. He started to notice that his wife was not behaving like her normal self. She was coherent and functional…but different.

It didn’t take long to figure out that something must have happened during the surgery that altered her personality. To put it another way, the woman he knew was no longer the woman he knew. Jim was now married to a completely different person than the one he wed over a decade earlier. His “new” wife—same body, different personality—was a little more critical, a little more cynical and required significant help and attention in areas of her life that used to come easy to her, like shopping and cooking.

Many people would use this change as an excuse for divorce or separation. At the very least, they would complain about it…but not Jim. Jim made promises, commitments and vows: “For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. In good times and in bad.”

For the last 20+ years, Jim has remained married to his new wife, and he has loved her and dedicated his life to her just as if this tragedy had never occurred.

Here are three lessons I learned from talking to Jim:

Love Is Not the Same as Happiness

If love were happiness, it wouldn’t be called love … it would be called happiness. Many people walk away from love when it stops being easy or fun, or when their relationship stops making them happy. True love is willing to get through the tough stuff in life, like sickness, financial stress or periods of transition.

Love is not about convenience. It’s not about ease. It’s not about smooth sailing. Love is about being there for someone through thick and thin, no matter what, and sometimes those times won’t be happy ones.

It’s Not about You

“It makes me happy to see her happy,” he said more than once.

Sure, things are difficult sometimes. Sure, she doesn’t always meet his needs. But there is real joy in being with someone and giving someone something that nobody else can. Jim loses himself in service to his wife. He is dedicated to making her life as amazing as possible. In doing so, he’s become a kind, gentle and patient man. He’s become a better friend and an incredible father, and he’s allowed this trial to shape him into the husband his wife needs.

It’s his focus on others that brings him true joy.

It’s Never as Bad as You Think

Bad things happen, but it’s not the end of the world. As horrible as Jim’s story sounds, he’s happy. He’s really, truly happy.

Life will throw challenges your way—it’s inevitable. But the challenges you face are rarely as bad, unmanageable or scary as they seem.

It’s not the challenges in life that will hurt your relationship, it’s how you deal with them. A marriage can be torn by the way you squeeze the toothpaste tube or it can be brought closer together by tackling something as scary as illness, finances or even infidelity.

Life’s trials won’t destroy you unless you let them.

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