Question 8
How will we handle sickness and disability?

Default answer:  We will remain committed thru sickness and health.
When this vow was created centuries ago, it was a real concern in every life:
People were subject to terrible diseases;
and the early death of one's spouse from disease or childbirth was common.
But because there was so little that could be done about diseases,
the decline into death was mercifully short in most cases.

     But now, you should think carefully about serious sickness and disability.
For instance, how will mental deterioration affect your relationship?

     When you declare that you will remain committed to each other
thru sickness and health, you are opening yourselves to
a protracted period of caring for an individual
who might cease to be a person in the most important senses
years before the final death of his or her body.
If both of you are near death, this commitment will not be a problem.
But while you are still young and healthy,
your partner might suffer a disease or accident that results in PVS.
What will you do if your partner becomes permanently unconscious?

     Simple compassion for a spouse who is married to
someone who has entered a persistent vegetative state or a coma
—that might be a long, drawn-out process lasting until death—
would suggest that the 'surviving' spouse be permitted new relationships,
even if he or she decides to remain committed in some respects
to the individual who has now become a former person.

     Even more explicitly, what about sex for the 'surviving' spouse?
The default answer would say that the spouse who finds
himself or herself married to a former person must remain celibate
because of the vow to remain 'faithful' in sickness and health until death.
If this is really what you want to promise, you accept the default answer.
And perhaps you will fill in some details of your commitment.

     Nursing home care is one specific cost—both emotional and financial—
that you should consider in endorsing or departing from this vow.
Married people are required by law to support (financially)
a spouse who must enter a nursing home when home-care no longer works.
Some couples must liquidate all their joint assets to pay nursing-home costs.
Would you want to impoverish your partner in that way?


     Creative answers:  You might create a different provision in your contract
with respect to chronic diseases that affect the mind of either partner.
For example, you might say that 10 years would be the longest period
you would expect your partner to wait for you to recover.
And you might even approve your partner beginning other relationships
while you are still 'alive' if you will never again return to personhood.

     In this part of your relationship contract you could endorse
openness to new relationships in case of disability
especially if one partner becomes so disabled mentally
that a real personal relationship becomes impossible.

     The present law and practice with respect to chronic disease
sometimes forces deeply committed spouses to divorce
in order to protect the healthy spouse from ruinous nursing-home expenses.
And custom condemns spouses of mentally-disabled partners
who start new relationships while their partners are still 'alive'.
And potential new lovers for the healthy partner
might be reluctant to begin a meaningful relationship with the healthy spouse
because it would seem to violate the marriage vow.

     But if you have agreed in advance in your relationship contract
that it would be best for either of you to be open to new relationships,
if the other becomes a vegetable,
then it would be possible for the non-disabled partner 'to get on with living'
even while the ailing partner is still 'alive' in some sense.
You could say in this part of your relationship contract
that you do not expect your partner to devote the rest of his or her life
to caring for you to the exclusion of other relationships
if you pass a certain point in disability
—especially mental disability that renders you a former person
so you cannot have a personal relationship as normally understood.

     In the 21st century, perhaps half of all people
will spend the last part of their lives senile or otherwise mentally impaired.
This will be a new fact of life created by the capacity of medical science
to keep people 'alive' much longer than ever before in history.
And the marriage laws ought to be revised to account for this new reality.
In the meantime, people who are creating their own relationship contracts
can decide in advance how they would handle their relationship
if disability were to strike either partner to the contract.    
How long will you commit yourself to taking care of a disabled partner?
Will you accept the role of primary care-giver, even if you must quit your job?
How will you change your commitment if the burdens become too great?

Question 8:     HOW WILL WE HANDLE SICKNESS AND DISABILITY?     by James Park     61

Above you have the first two pages of Question 8 from Designer Marriage.
One more page goes into other details you might consider in your relationship contract.

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Designer Marriage: Write Your Own Relationship Contract

Created April 5, 2009; Revised

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