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How long can love suffer? Handling the worst times together.
When trouble comes, how long can you carry your spouse through suffering? - photo by Burkley Rudd
Popular romance in literature and movies tells us that true love reaches fairytale proportions when it's challenged by disease or loss, even the threat of death. Everything from paralysis to cancer afflicts the characters of culture's favorite love stories, and somehow love seems sweeter and grander that way.

In actual practice though, sickness, trouble and loss are avoided like the plague. Suffering is always the quietest part of our lives, and we spend the most effort sweeping it under the rug, out of sight. Why this disconnect? If pain is all it's cracked up to be, shouldn't it be the most advertised feature of our relationships?

Whether we actually romanticize suffering or not, it will visit each of us, unannounced and unwelcome, most of the time. Challenged love loses nearly all its luster when it's no longer on the page or screen, but jumping down your throat every day.

Suffering couldn't be farther from the mind during the wedding, the reception, the honeymoon, even the first few months of marriage. It's almost never a consideration in dating. All anyone wants to accept is the perfect textbook married life, complete with a great job, kids, a beautiful house, a healthy retirement, growing old together, and capped off with a quiet, peaceful end wrapped in each other's arms.

That ONLY happens in a fictional world; believing otherwise will leave you feeling wronged.

This is not to say that working diligently won't make some, if not most, of these dreams come true; difficulty just has a way of striking in ways beyond your control. I know a man who was living the white-picket-fence life; he had a good job and had worked it for nearly two decades. He had a beautiful wife, and five kids that he loved more than anything.

Then a terrifying disease fell out of the clear blue sky, severely crippling him from the waist down. It ravaged his pancreas and gave him diabetes. All this came just weeks before a business trip that would've awarded him a healthy promotion. He was hospitalized for weeks and nearly died before slowly making his way home.

He then left his job to return to his wife's hometown, a state away. Her mother was very ill and needed their help. After losing their home and moving two more times they settled in a rental house. The only work he could find was in the local post office.

Through all of this, his wife remained the rock and anchor of their family. She took care of him when he couldn't himself. She ran the home and did all she could with what little they had. She loved and strengthened him when things were at their worst. She never wavered.

That horrific journey started nine years ago.

Things haven't gotten better.

Now I ask you, at what point along such a path would you have reached your breaking point?

When would you have thrown in the towel?

Can you imagine an expiration date on your love, due to some circumstance that would nullify your commitment? Unfortunately, many, many before you have.

We want to say, and in fact, we do say that if something like this happened we would stay together. Nothing could ever happen to us, or to our spouse that was so bad we would leave each other. But that's said in a moment of ease, far, far away from testing that claim.

If your husband loses his job, how long will you stand by him? Two weeks? A month? Three years?

If the doctor finds cancer in your wife, and she loses much of her ability, how long will you take care of her? The rest of her life?

If you should bury one of your children, God forbid, will you be able to hold strong together?

The only weapon you have against whatever challenge lies ahead is to make a decision and hold to it with your whole soul. You will find you're made of tougher stuff than you think when the chips are down; your ability to endure will stretch to match your conviction, if you're willing.

The man of my story stands alone as an example of living well in extreme adversity, and impresses me every day with his resolve. He and his wife have a marvelous family, and it is my privilege to have married their daughter.

Choose to hold to your spouse tightly through anything, and no trouble will ever win in the end.
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