Marriage through sickness and in health
How couples can cope when one spouse has a chronic illness
All marriages face obstacles. Most, however, aren't as pervasive as chronic illness, which can rear its ugly head on a daily basis: Your wife, who suffers from epilepsy, may have seizures that require hospital visits on a regular basis. Your husband, who has muscular dystrophy, may need constant help with daily physical tasks such as bathing.
Spouses of individuals who suffer from physically debilitating conditions often find themselves filling both the role of spouse and caretaker or nurse. Spouses of individuals who suffer from mental conditions may find themselves feeling more like a babysitter than an equal partner in the marriage.
Few things in life test wedding vows like chronic illness. However, couples can be that needful and strong support for each other even during these trying times.
For the patient:
- Don't expect your spouse to carry the full burden of your condition, physically or
emotionally. No one person can handle a chronic illness alone – not your husband, not yourself. Enlist the help of friends, neighbors, coworkers and family. If need be, bring in outside medical or household help.
- Do seek to serve your spouse. Your wife is a great support to you in your daily battles with chronic illness. Do what you can to serve her, if even in small ways.
- Don't offer your spouse an "out." It's natural for your spouse to wonder, "Am I really cut out for a marriage in which a chronic illness is involved?" Though offering her an out may seem the compassionate thing to do, it may backfire and fuel destructive thoughts. Thank her for her commitment to you through good times and bad, and express your mutual commitment.
- Do speak well of your spouse – publicly and privately. Let his friends and coworkers know what a great help he is to you and how irreplaceable he is.
For the spouse:
- Don't use your spouse's condition against her. Though the nuances of your wife's condition are frustrating, they're not intentional.
- Do allow time to recharge yourself. "Me time" is crucial to keeping yourself fresh and able to deal with the challenges of a marriage in which chronic illness is involved. It's also crucial to your overall happiness and well-being.
- Don't define your spouse by his condition. Try not to refer to him as a diabetic, asthmatic or any other term that defines him by his condition. Instead, refer to him as your husband with [insert condition].
- Do realize your doubts are normal. It's ordinary to wonder if you're "really cut out for marriage to a person with [insert condition]."
- Do find a support group, especially one where spouses and family members are welcome. If a support group doesn't exist for the particular condition or is too far from home, consider starting one. Or, find an online forum where both of you can receive and give encouragement.
- Do continue to make intimacy a priority. Physical intimacy is one of the greatest tangible bonds between a married couple. Besides fulfilling physical cravings, sex builds relational intimacy between a husband and wife. If sex is still possible, continue to make love regularly. If it isn't, seek to fulfill each other's needs in other creative ways.
Life, no matter how painful or confusing, is precious and worth living. May both of you continue to experience each day to the fullest at each other’s side.
Do you have any thoughts about supporting a spouse with chronic illness? Do share them with us, we’d love to hear from you.
Used with permission from Focus on the Family Singapore. For more information on family life resources and workshops, visit www.family.org.sg.
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