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Kindness Is the Best Guide

Finding perspective when flooded with feelings.

Source: Lars_Nissen/Pixabay

Linda: For eight years Steve and Jim enjoyed a wonderful relationship. They especially enjoyed the amount of laughter and play (both musical and otherwise) that they experience together. Then, Steve and Jim were faced with a life-threatening challenge that pushed play off the map completely. Practically overnight, Jim went from being a life partner to a full-time caregiver when Steve’s HIV condition exploded into a full-blown case of AIDS. Within a few months, Steve’s dying was no longer a possibility or likelihood; it was an imminent reality.

Jim: Steve was walking death. He’s over six feet tall, and his weight dropped to a hundred pounds. He was just skin and bones. It was certain that it was just a matter of time before he’d be gone and I put everything I had into trying to keep him alive. I let go of everything else. We went into financial ruin because neither of us was working. All of our expenses and bills were mounting up. We survived by standing in line for free bread, cheese, milk, and other necessities at various AIDS service organizations. We also received a few grants from some music industry groups to help pay for electricity.

Gratitude is always an option no matter what the circumstances.

Steve: Jim was my twenty-four-hour-a-day nurse. It was years of sacrifice, but he never wavered. He never once laid a trip on me about my prolonged illness being a burden to him. The kind of stress that we were going through is the kind that either pulls couples apart or draws them closer together. For us, fortunately, we became closer than ever. I was inspired to write love songs for Jim, in my deep appreciation of his care for me. My songs were about how I felt being so sick, facing death, and how the love of my friends kept me alive. When I was writing and singing those songs, I felt a lot better. My plan was to write enough songs to have one last concert and then die.

Jim: Then in 1996, a new AIDS medication came on to the market. It was expected to be highly effective, but there was just one problem: they were in very limited supply and there wasn’t nearly enough for all of the AIDS patients who needed it. A lottery was held to determine which of the patients would receive the medicine. Steve was one of the lucky winners. Most of those who did not get the medication died. The doctors told us that Steve was about two weeks away from death when he started to take the medicine. It was hailed as a revolutionary AIDS drug because everyone who was put on it was starting to revive. As soon as Steve started to take it, he began to come back to life.

Steve: The medication rescued me from death’s door, but ironically it was when I got well and felt strong that we had the most difficult time in our relationship.

Once Steve got well, there were so many terrible fights.

Jim: The new drugs for AIDS that saved his life gave Steve a new personality. Shortly after he started taking them, he became aggressive and angry. It was a nightmare. We didn’t know at the time that it was the drugs that caused his mood changes. Around this time, a third party came into our life, and he noticed that our relationship was not in good shape. He took advantage of that vulnerability, pretending to be a good guy who was trying to keep us together. But behind each of our backs, he was bad-mouthing the other, trying to split us up. Over a period of six weeks, things went from bad to worse. It got so bad that we had to separate. It just goes to show you how a relationship that had been strong for thirteen years can still be so fragile. We learned that if we don’t take care of our relationship all the time, it could rapidly slip into disrepair.

Our separation lasted eighty days, and although it was necessary, it was enormously difficult for us both. We talked on the phone every day and stayed in touch. We needed some space to see things clearly.

That which doesn’t kill a relationship can make it stronger.

Steve: We missed each other terribly and longed to be together again. Finally, in one conversation, I said to Jim, ‘Why don’t you come home? Let’s just be nice to each other.’ We both made a commitment to be kind and respectful to each other. And we were. We had indulged in speaking too many unkind words to each other. We agreed that we would not bring up old hurts and we didn’t. In time our deliberate practice of kindness became a habit and we began to trust enough to discuss what had happened. It wasn’t too long before we were laughing at how ridiculously immature we had both been.

It took a while to straighten things out, but once I got on the proper medication, my mood changed back to being more like it had been. It had been a period of temporary madness in which we were both caught up in a storm of overwhelming feelings. Slowly, we were able to sort out what had happened, and began to talk about the third party in a responsible way. We each owned up to our part in the breakdown. And we made an even stronger commitment to be respectful and kind to each other.

Loving-kindness saved their marriage.

Linda: Steve and Jim, for years, rarely had even a minor conflict, and never a prolonged one. Their painful breakdown was a powerful teaching lesson for them. It showed them that even when small upsets occur, it can sometimes be a good idea to leave the issue aside for a while. Later, when they picked the issue up again, they were more relaxed and could talk about it productively. Nowadays, they don’t have to waste much energy on power struggles and breakdowns. They have found a way of being together with loving-kindness.