Keeping a relationship together under normal circumstances is hard work. Keeping a relationship together when your partner is incarcerated is harder. Most prison relationships fail. Partners who decide to honor their commitments do so with the best of intentions and do so knowing it will be an arduous task. The complexity of this type of relationship is not to be taken lightly, but with planning, conformity, and an acceptance of your new reality. Incarceration does not have to be a death sentence for your union.
Realize there is a stigma associated with your partner’s prison sentence; a stigma that might attach itself to you, if you let it. It is not your job to make others feel ‘ok’ with the choices you have made in your life. What others think of you, quite frankly, is not your business. Your business is to proudly live your life. Stepping into the role of a prisoner’s wife/partner will be an enormous adjustment. Do not make this adjustment more difficult by hanging your head in shame.
You will experience a sense of loss when your partner leaves the home; allow yourself the time needed to adjust to your new circumstance. Surrounding yourself with a strong support system e.g. friends, ministries, and support groups will go a long away to keep you sane. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There will be days when you feel like you can’t carry on, but a good support system will help love you pass the pain.
Incarceration is not an inexpensive endeavor and these expenses will affect your monthly budget. Bills such as postage costs, calls, visitation expenses, packages, books etc. will add up — quick. Figure out your normal monthly budget. Figure out prison expenses; distinguish your wants versus needs and plan, plan, plan. Being prepared will help minimize financial strains.
Staying connected as a family is essential and facilitates your partner’s reintegration in to the family unit. A man in prison is still a man. Keep him as the head of the family. Ask his opinion. Make decisions together, no matter how trivial. Send him pictures of your environment – a changed hairstyle, rearranged furniture, new dress etc. No event is too small. Allow him to participate in discipline of the kids; to participate in their development. Share progress reports and report cards. Schedule calls during homework time. Ongoing familial attachments will go a long way to diminish your partner’s sense of isolation.
One of the biggest challenges for a prisoner’s wife/partner is keeping love alive. Your relationship is under new management and will require you to think outside the system. Intimate and honest communication has to be the foundation of your relationship. Letters and calls are dates; prepare for them, savor them. Each word, each action is an offering of the heart. Being a prisoner’s wife/partner will teach you the art of courtship; reminiscent of the days of nostalgic romance where a simple glance or slight touch unlocks the fantasies of your mind. Love is mental. Create rituals only the two of you share. Love is a commitment. Commit to having a boundless love, in spite of the boundaries.
Every situation in your life — no matter how bleak — has a silver lining but you will need to mature in to this process to see it clearly. Focus on the reasons you stay. Above all else, when facing a high failure rate, strive to be a part of the minority and take pride in saying to the world – “Not us, not our relationship!” [rft]
What are your secrets to beating the failure rate?
Here are the top two resolutions for prisoners’ wives/partners:
- Lose weight in your relationship – If you had a difficult year, suffered a few disappointments, or learned something hurtful. Its’ time to lose weight. Extra goo in your union is unhealthy. If you are still together, then you owe it to each other to not only lose the weight, but not regain it. This extra poundage will not only weigh the relationship down but eventually will affect your relationship health. If you still harbor feelings about what happened in 2011, you have approximately two days to hit the gym to lose what’s ailing you and start the new year with a zero on the relationship scale.
- Balance your relationship checkbook – We have a tendency to give and give and give and sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice. We are emotionally and sometimes financially overdrawn, trying to pay the hefty price of this relationship. You cannot continue to pay from an account that’s overdrawn. Eventually, the account must be closed which means a mental breakdown in your future. Balance your relationship checkbook. Decide what works and what doesn’t. Where are the deposits? Where are the withdrawals? Shift credits and deposits accordingly until you have more than enough to give.
Overcompensating – Withdrawal.
Stressed over things you can’t control – Withdrawal.
Paying for things can’t afford it – Withdrawal.
Living within your means – Deposit.
Communicating effectively – Deposit.
Supportive friends and family- Deposit.
By losing weight and balancing our checkbooks, we resolve to have better relationships which ultimately will spill over to us becoming better people (we hope).
Happy New Year!
What are some of your relationship resolutions?
In this call, Sheila talked about an exercise she and her husband like to do to take the pulse of their relationship.
Each year, they write five words to describe the relationship. No long exhaustive letters, just five simple words.
The point of the exercise is to determine where a relationship needs works and if both parties see the relationship in the same way. Honesty is important. For instance, it does the relationship a disservice to describe it as the best thing since sliced bread when it has really been a difficult year. Don’t focus on things you can’t change. Don’t make a list of prison words. Focus on the connection despite the location. This exercise will get you talking and if necessary, fix something before it goes off the rails.
Five words might be:
These two examples are very different pulses of a relationship. Now, if the above example is by two people in the same relationship, you see they will have a lot to talk about.
Is your relationship ready for 2012? Let’s find out. Assignment: You and your partner write five words that accurately describe the state of your relationship. Discuss.
Find the love story of Joseph and Sheila in Love Lives Here, Too: Real Life Stories about Prison Relationships and read how five words strengthen their marriage.