Defining The Relationship: We’re More than Our Roles

Kristin Neva avatar

by Kristin Neva |

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Defining the relationship

When I was brainstorming ideas for the name of this column, before settling on “Joyful Sorrow,” I asked my husband if he had any ideas.

“How about ‘The Caregiver’?” Todd suggested.

I dismissed it out of hand.

He pushed back. “I think it’s a good name. It’s descriptive and it’s broad.”

“No!” I snapped, surprised by the intensity of my response. “Sorry. That was an overreaction.”

I had to step back and examine why I had reacted so strongly.

On occasion, when asked what I do for work, I explain that I’m my husband’s caregiver so I can’t work outside the home. But I reject the title in other contexts, such as when taking Todd to a doctor’s appointment. A medical professional will ask, “Are you his caregiver?”

“I’m his wife,” I respond.

In the conservative college culture I was a part of, we used the acronym DTR for the conversation a guy and girl would have after they had been spending a lot of time together. There came a point when they’d have to “define the relationship.”

“Are we more than friends? Might this be going somewhere? Are we exclusive? Are we boyfriend and girlfriend?”

The DTR was an important conversation, because what one was called determined expectations.

After dating Todd for a while, we eventually had a DTR. That was followed by engagement, marriage, and children.

I had the opportunity to stay home with my babies, and I threw myself into parenting. I read books and articles on developing young minds. I learned that black-and-white patterns were better for babies’ brain development than pastel mobiles, so I drew patterns on cards to hang above Sara’s crib. I read about Montessori-inspired parenting, which emphasizes providing sensory-based learning tools and independence. I gave Sara a set of small cups and she happily worked on pouring rice from one cup to another. We took walks in the park, read books and poems, and sang. We went to music classes and play groups.

I happily identified as “Mom.”

I also did a lot of housework, but I wasn’t Todd’s maid. I did most of the shopping, but I wasn’t his personal shopper. I usually had dinner ready when Todd came home, but I wasn’t his chef.

He mowed the lawn and did home repairs. He usually drove the car when we went out together. But I never would have called him my maintenance man or chauffeur.

Now that Todd is a quadriplegic, I’ve taken on more of the household responsibilities. And Todd has found other ways to contribute, such as editing my writing — this column is less rambling and has more structure because of him. But I only jokingly call him my editor.

We take on different roles, but do not define our relationship by them. We are simply husband and wife.

While writing this column, I was called away from my desk to turn him in bed, help him pee, scratch itches, and massage his shoulder. Much of my day is spent caring for him, but I’d prefer to define our relationship in more personal terms.

I’m his wife, and one of my roles is caregiving, but we are so much more together.

We are co-parents. I appreciate being able to discuss things with him and come to decisions together. “What should our social media guidelines be for our teenage daughter?” “Should we let our son ride his dirt bike with his cousins who are on four-wheelers?”

We are both intentionally and equally invested in the well-being of our children.

We are co-owners of our home. I rely on Todd to help me manage the house. He ordered a new water filter for the fridge, and when it came he coached me on how to install it.

He’s my husband. I’m his wife. We love each other. We show affection.

He’s my best friend. We talk and laugh. We are partners.

This is how I want to define our relationship.


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Richard avatar


Exquisitely put! I recoil at the word caregiver since to me it has tones of servility and unwillingness. My husband gives me care in the form of emotional support and companionship. Thanks for the article.

Ken avatar


Great article and I could not agree more. I just had the extreme pleasure of providing care for my wife who was mush more as we were soulmates for over 57 years. I resented people labeling me a caregiver as if I did something special. But, I have to be honest, I am going to use some of your talking .
Thank you from someone who did what they promised "through sickness and health"

Ken avatar


I meant to say talking points. I guess I could also use an editor

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