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?