When Reality Sets In

Black and white close up of a stethoscope lying curled up on a bedsheet
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash
Few things in life test wedding vows like 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 chronic fatigue syndrome, may wake up on a Saturday too fatigued to attend the all-day BBQ festival you both had been looking forward to. Your husband’s Crohn’s disease severely limits where and what the two of you can eat. Your husband, who suffers from diabetes, slips into a hypoglycemic seizure that sends you both to the hospital on a Sunday evening.

Spouses of individuals who suffer from physically debilitating conditions often find themselves filling both the role of spouse and caretaker/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. If your spouse was diagnosed before you tied the knot, you may have underestimated the toll the condition would take on the marriage. Or, you were so in love you didn’t care. As time progresses, it’s natural to wonder if you’ve gotten “in over your head.” If your spouse was diagnosed after your wedding day, you may find yourself thinking “If only I had known how hard this would be. Would I have still signed up for this?”

Below are do’s and don’t’s for the patient and spouse on coping with marriage and chronic illness:

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, church members and family. If need be, bring in outside medical or household help.
  • Do seek to serve your spouse. Your wife is a great to support to you in your daily battles with chronic illness. Do what you can to serve her, if even in small ways. And don’t keep tally of who’s done what for whom. This can be detrimental to a marriage.
  • 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 (and likely to garner some much needed reassurance of her commitment), it may backfire and fuel destructive thoughts Satan is tempting your spouse with. Thank her for her commitment to you through good times and bad, and express your mutual commitment.
  • Do speak well of your spouse – publically 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. Bring your mutual frustrations at the situation to God, and don’t direct them at each other.
  • 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].” It’s ordinary for someone in your position to be tempted to leave – temporarily or permanently. There is no sin in being tempted, but there is sin in breaking your vows. Let God know you need His strength to fulfill your vows to your spouse.

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