Couple epitomizes healthy relationship

  • Published
  • By Paula Tracy
  • Family advocacy outreach manager
At least once a year, I write an article to remind Team Keesler that interpersonal violence is an issue for which all of us share responsibility.

I usually include an overview of the dynamics of partner abuse, some relevant statistics and offer ideas on how everyone can assist in prevention. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it's the ideal time to do so. But this year, as a direct result of a recent experience at the 81st Medical Group, my focus is entirely different.

That morning I was, as is typical for me, moving quickly. I was ticking off the day's to do list in my mind as I headed down the hall leading to the hospital's tower exit. I had accomplished what I needed to get done and was already planning my next stop.

I wasn't really paying much attention to the activity around me until I approached my exit.

There, my gaze shifted to the form of a much older gentleman who was slowly pushing a wheelchair toward the tower entrance front doors. I work every weekend in a nursing home so I'm critically aware of the importance of dignity and respect when it comes to honoring a senior's independence. Yet this fellow appeared to be just a slight bit, well ... unsteady.

So as unobtrusively as possible, I quietly took a seat across the open foyer and waited, carefully monitoring just to make sure he wouldn't need my assistance. What I saw next touched me deeply. Slowly, but quite surely, he made his way out to the patient drop-off area in front of the building. Initially I thought he was surely being picked up by a caregiver, but as I watched, I realized he was heading toward a parked car, where an equally elderly woman was waiting. As she glimpsed him approaching, her face simply lit up, a brilliant smile clearly meant solely for him. Smiling back, he made it to her passenger side door, opened it and reached over to unfasten her seat belt.

Exquisitely gentle, he helped her out of the seat, guiding her obviously fragile body with great tenderness. After expertly settling her into the wheelchair, he cradled the top of her head lightly between his hands, where he placed a lingering kiss. Only then did they begin the slow, laborious return to the foyer. I stayed right where I was -- just in case -- but clearly, they didn't need me. They had each other.

Obviously, I was observing a couple who had been partners for many years. I would say that together they had experienced virtually everything life can dish out -- joy, despair, separation, fortune, loss, birth, death and illness. I'll bet if I had asked them, they would have joked about their aging bodies, their increasing dependency, their options for the future. These were very senior citizens with some serious mileage on their bodies, yet they still looked at each other with obvious appreciation. By the way, in case you're wondering, I had completely forgotten about being unobtrusive by this point. I was openly staring. But in a good way; I was entranced!

What also struck me was their ease with one another,clearly shared, even after all the time they have surely been together. Yet, it was more than that: it was respect, tenderness, gentleness, a generosity of spirit with one another that simply radiated from both of them.

OK, so what does this couple have to do with a domestic violence awareness article?

First, they show us a shining example of what a healthy relationship can look like.

Second, they remind us that sustained, vibrant love isn't about possessiveness, jealousy or ego -- everything that a relationship in which violence flourishes is about. It's not about a beautiful unlined face, the sexy six-pack or that hefty bank account. You see, when relationships begin based on the wrong set of principles or unrealistic expectations, it's easy for the foundation to crack. Base it on the things that truly matter, and you can defeat those threats that can ultimately topple a relationship.

Not long ago, Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Robertson and I co-facilitated "Friends for Life," a relationship enhancement class based on the prevention and relationship enhancement program. In the class we stressed one particular aspect of a healthy relationship. A couple, in order to become truly close, has to get real, to be genuine with each other. Of course, in the process of becoming real we are vulnerable, leaving ourselves open for great injury if our partners choose not to treat us kindly or respectfully.

It's risky, it requires a great deal of trust -- but we can decrease risk and protect that closeness by setting standards for safety in the relationship. For example, this should mean no hitting, ever. It means that separation or divorce is never threatened during an argument. Apologies are welcome and accepted graciously. All couples should identify the super sensitive issues and, if necessary, declare them sacred; they will never be used as ammunition in an argument. The bottom line is that emotional and physical safety
is critical for both partners, and once achieved, intimacy naturally follows.

The couple I saw in the 81st MDG Hospital ... they have no idea what they generated within me that morning and what they have now created with this article. But I'll bet they would be happy to help. A friend of mine, when I told him about this experience, commented ... "You really are a hopeless romantic!"

Perhaps. Nonetheless, they still reminded me that long-term loving relationships can exist, and that sometimes, in order to learn what not to be, we need to focus on what to be. And I, for one, am grateful that I had the opportunity to slow down and be a witness to the example they gave all of us.