How Managing a Disease Affects Both Partners
What no one is ever told about chronic illness is that it will have an effect on marriage. It can take a toll on even the best of relationships. Chronic illness rewrites a relationship and significantly influences issues such as money, work, chores and sex. Managing the way illness affects marriage is as important as managing the disease itself and couples who take responsibility for working through both find that they can built a stronger and closer relationship.
The Effect on Marriage
Studies have shown that marriages in which one spouse is sick are more likely to end compared to those in which chronic illness is not an obstacle. And spouses who become caregivers are six times more likely to be depressed, this according to the Caregiver Action Network.
Most of us do not think about chronic illness when we are young, healthy and making a long-term commitment to someone else. We tell ourselves that we will be there for each other in “sickness and health” but despite our best intentions, chronic illness can get in the way of the vows we made. This is because chronic illness is physically and emotionally exhausting. Additionally, the partner who becomes the caregiver may struggle with patience and regret while the partner suffering from chronic illness may be racked with guilt.
Chronic Illness Affects Both Partners
It can be difficult to adapt to the illness of a partner, especially when illness requires changes to both the future and everyday life. The sick spouse may no longer be able to work outside the home or help out with household chores. Other adjustments will have to be made that affect both spouses, including, but not limited to, modifications to schedules, diets and sleeping patterns and making time for doctor appointments.
Abrupt and constant change affects both partners equally, so it’s natural that both will feel fear and anxiety over what is happening. While unhealthy, most spouses try to shield themselves and each other from the reality of chronic illness by not speaking about their fears and the affects that chronic illness have on their lives.
A New Plan for Moving Forward
Effectively coping with chronic illness in a relationship requires communicating to form a new plan for going forward. That plan should include discussing specific matters such as: how to handle the illness; dealing with finances; caring for children and elderly parents; intimacy; the handling of new changes imposed by chronic illness; and letting go of a past that involved good health. Once both partners know where they stand on these concerns, they can come together to find amicable solutions. Both partners should actively participate in working toward a future that can still be happy and exciting.
What I Have Learned
I wish that someone had told me that chronic illness would have an effect on my marriage. No one ever did and I had to learn that lesson the hard away. Experience also taught me that marriage requires two people willing to be there for one another “in sickness and in health.” Not everyone can pass that test. In my case, I learned that chronic illness had little to do with my marriage issues. If anything, it had to with a lack of communication about the issues that affect both chronic illness and marriage — individually and in sum.
I have learned that couples who find themselves faced with chronic illness have to decide whether it will make them or break them. Coping with chronic illness is a difficult process and most people do not anticipate having to deal with its influence on their lives until it happens. Surviving the strain of chronic illness requires a great deal of empathy and open communication, and without it, relationships cannot survive.
Couples who survive chronic illness’s effects end up with happy and fulfilling relationships where illness doesn’t define their marriage but becomes something they manage as a team. When a marriage doesn’t survive chronic illness, allow yourself to take comfort, as I have, and recognize that chronic illness isn’t the only culprit for the breakdown of a relationship. Acknowledging and understanding this can better prepare you for chronic illness’s effect on future relationships.
Originally posted at Arthritis Connect.
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