When Chronic Illness Joins Your Marriage

Maybe someday I’ll write a post directed at the spouse of someone with a chronic illness and you’ll be able to show it to your spouse and say “see, told ya….” but today isn’t that day. Today is about us.

We can find quite a bit on the internet directed at the loved ones and friends of someone with a chronic illness but when there are two people in a relationship, they both have the obligation to do their part to make the relationship the best it can be.

chronic illness joins your marriage

During the whole dating process, you’re supposed to be open and honest with each other. You learn all you can about this wonderful person you want to spend the rest of your life with. You know they aren’t perfect, after all, no one is. But you’ve decided you can live with their faults and they can live with yours.

But what happens when another concern enters the picture after you’re married.

Thursday was my 27th anniversary. When I stood holding my husband’s hand and saying my “I do’s” it was just him and me. “In sickness and in health” was a line we repeated as the Pastor directed. What I didn’t realize was that one day that line would feel more like we had added another person to this marriage.

Doesn’t a Chronic Illness seem like another person at times?

Husband: “Wanna go get something to eat.”

Wife: “Let me check with C.I.  – No we can’t. C.I. needs to be at physical therapy by noon, then back home by 2 pm to take her meds. She said her legs aren’t up to the walk from the parking lot into the cafe. So, as much as I’d love to go with you, I’m going to have to stay here with C.I. Oh, and by the way, while I’m with C.I. today, I’m going to need you to pick up the groceries and run a few other errands for me, ok?”

See what I mean. It’s like there’s a third person in the mix now and how we handle this intrusion can make or break our marriage.

I asked a few of my chronic illness blogger friends to offer their tips for a healthy marriage despite having an unhealthy illness.  Some knew about their illness before marriage, some didn’t. But regardless of when the chronic illness joins your marriage, there are still hardships and challenges that take place.

Here are their suggestions:

Kami from Living Grace

I think our tip would be this: to make a point to regularly check in with your spouse to see how THEY are doing. It’s easy to miss our spouse’s needs in the midst of illness. We both get wrapped up in the fact that I’m sick, with conversations surrounding doctors appointments, treatment, and my newest symptoms. But his needs are just as much a priority as mine.

Rachel from Cranberry Tea Time

One of the most important things you can do is express your gratitude often. Let your spouse know that you are grateful for the way he or she works hard and takes care of you.

You may be limited in the physical help you can provide around the house, but work hard and be faithful in the areas you can help out, even if it seems small and insignificant. In our home, I try to help with a simple task each day that can be done in less than five minutes. I might wipe the bathroom counter, wipe the kitchen counters, dust, wipe a spot off the kitchen floor, or wipe hair off the bathroom floor. I do very little work in one day, but over the course of a week, it does add up.

Shelly from Renewed Daily

Tip from me: Never underestimate the impact of your presence and emotional support. This makes a huge impact on your spouse and is sometimes all they need (meaning, as a chronically ill spouse, you CAN still do what really matters).

Tip from Brian: Don’t assume your spouse will know your needs because you know each other so well. The illness is new and direction or specifics are very much appreciated!

Robin from In Spite Of My Illness

My husband feels it’s important to give your spouse permission to do things they enjoy without making them feel guilty for not staying home with you. We do that in our marriage and I think that’s huge.

Tanya from My Fruitful Home

I have two tips. First, be clear about what you need. Sometimes we have a tendency to expect our spouse to know what we need. It makes both our lives easier when this is done. Second, if you and your spouse like to do things together, have two lists of activities – one for your good days and one for your bad days. That way you won’t have to disappoint your spouse. Even on my worst days I can usually go to the movies or rent one and order food in.

My tips are:

  1. Pray for your spouse and your marriage daily. So many things can creep in and ruin a healthy marriage. Going through a chronic illness has always been one of the top causes for divorce along with infidelity and financial pressures. Make sure your first line of defense is spiritual warfare!
  2. Make running errands for you as easy as possible. For example, keep a grocery list handy that’s arranged according to the layout of your store. I have one you can download here. Makes grocery shopping easier!
  3. When you’re able to get out on a date night, try to keep the conversation away from your illness and focus on each other and your other interests.
  4. Be sure to celebrate your spouse’s successes and victories. Be their biggest cheerleader.

If you think about it, every marriage is going to have to face things they weren’t planning on. Whether it’s a lost job, care for elderly parents, a child with a disability, etc. – as prepared as you may have thought you were, no couple can know everything they’ll face during the course of their marriage.

It can be so easy to focus on our health and lose the focus on our relationship. Marriage is hard work – with or without a chronic illness. But anything worthwhile is worth the work involved.

Now it’s your turn! Leave a comment below sharing how you keep your marriage healthy!

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14 thoughts on “When Chronic Illness Joins Your Marriage

  1. Kim, this is so right on! I understand every word you said. I think one of the most helpful things I do for my husband is say thank you often. An0ther is that I really try to listen to him tell about his day.
    You blog was especially helpful because you included other bloggers’ advice. Thanks! April

    • Thanks April – saying thank you and taking time to listen to him are great things to do. I’m sure it makes him feel loved and appreciated!

  2. I’ve been married 48 years & in love with my husband 53. Communicate! That’s how I deal with my illness & his needs. I’ve had lupus 13 years, & one thing I do, besides thanking him often, is do a few of his jobs, like cleaning the cat’s box, when I’m up to it as a surprise.
    I also keep really good records of my symptoms, meds, doctors, etc. He says this really helps him because if I wake up really sick with a 101 temp, he knows which doc to call & what to tell the doc about what’s been going on. He said if I wasn’t doing this it would fall on him & be more difficult. I never really considered that!

  3. Hello I am new to your blog and I’ve decided to learn all I can to help me cope with my FM and CFS.

    I am blessed in so many ways. Me and my husband have been married for 32 years and I have 3 girls. 26, 28 and 30. I have 3 of the most amazing Grandsons that save me in times of sadness.

    My husband has been my rock. He constantly picks up the slack without any complaint. He stops me when I feel guilt, useless, depressed, and everything in between. I was diagnosed in 1998 when my girls were young. They learned at a very young age to be self reliant and learned many household skills.

    I am on my knees in the morning and night before bed thanking my Heavenly Father for my family.

    I never thought in a million years that I would battle to be happy. It was in my nature all my life. Happiness came natural for me. Optimism came easy for me.

    I look forward reading your blog and glean from it.

    • I’m sorry I didn’t answer the question.

      I try to let my husband know how proud I am of him and grateful for his understanding of my illness. I tell him I realize the pressure he faces taking care of the family because he is our only bread winner. We sometimes don’t recognize this. I make sure he knows how much I love him and get excited when he calls to see how I’m doing.

      It is important to be open but it is hard to find that balance be causes I don’t want to complain about my pain.

      Life is ever surprising so I make the best of what’s been given to me. That all I can do.

      • So glad to “meet” you Robbin! Sounds like you have a wonderful life despite your illness. I’m so happy for you! It’s hard to keep our optimism when we’re battling for our health but it sounds like you’re doing all you possible can. We all have our own battles and all we can do is trust God and lean on His strength!

  4. Woe. First all know that it is flippin HARD. Hard is the new normal. And it doesn’t mean either spouse is doing anything wrong or is a failure. God loves hardness, mess and chaos. We just have to let Him in. The hardness, chaos and mess is still there but life is so much sweeter and funnier with Jesus.

    Secondly, don’t think outside the box – throw it away! Forget expected norms – especially regarding housework and roles. Then look at what you can do and who can do it. And know there are lots of days it still won’t get done.

    Learn about grief. Because you will both grieve. Learn how to recognize what your spouse is working through and how you can support one another. Mostly, remember grief is normal.

    Do everything you possibly can to avoid carer’s burnout. There are many organizations set up to support Carers. For us it meant moving 500km and leaving family and friends. This meant hubbie could stop working 24/7 doing 2 jobs and instead could work from home, be on hand to help raise our 3 boys and support me – the ill one. When the kids are at school he now has time to breath.

    Be part of an understanding church. If you need to change churches, that’s ok. You need a church that understands that when you can’t make church it’s because someone is too unwell or you are too spent – not because you are backsliding.

    Try (as much as your able) get enough sleep, eat real food and exercise outdoors. Remember, sometimes is better than no times.

    • All great tips Shaz! You’re so right, it’s hard work! You shared some practical things to help our marriages thrive. I’m so glad you were able to change things so your husband could work from home. His mental, emotional and physical well-being are a priority to you and I’m sure he’s grateful for that!

  5. Me and my hubby have been together 31 years! Married 27 years! He works Long hours. Does the shopping. Most of the cooking. Cleaning. He understands me and my illness more than anyone! And knows if i don’t get the rest i need ect i will be a total nightmare! And unable to do the minimalist of things!
    I always try and make time for “us”! Cuddles kisses talking about Anything that comes to mind!? Sometimes, we are even thinking the same things!!
    i always makesure if there’s sport on tv he likes ect he gets to watch it. Go to the local football team’s matches. And on Odd occasions i have gone with him!
    We just seem to “work” together, like this! If he wants to go for a Beer i don’t complain if i don’t feel up to it! He works HARD! I trust him! He loves me! And i love him! Genuinely! We tell each other everyday! Say “please” and “thankyou”
    Appreciate what we “both do” even if i manage to cook or do something in the house!
    We had….lol matching tattoos yesterday!
    We said for our 25th anniversary that we would. With the wedding date on and our initials. 2 years later! Lol it’s done!
    Be spontaneous even! Have fun together when you can! Enjoy Everyday together and Laugh! X