As I sit in yet another hospital bed, awaiting yet another test, I feel myself becoming more anxious and frustrated. Not for myself – I have dealt with this most of my life – but for my husband. “How will another night in the hospital affect him?” I think. And the question, “Is my chronic illness hurting my marriage?” plays through my mind.
I know the answer he would give is “No!” But sometimes I struggle with the idea that it’s more out of obligation he says that than reality. Because how could it not be hurting him? To be the only functioning member in the marriage. To be both the provider and caretaker. To have the worry always be about me. I struggle internally every time I have to go to the ER because I know it means another missed work day for him. I see the stress and wear on his face everytime I grimace in pain – partly out of concern for me, but also out of fear for how we will pay another bill.
We have been married almost two years and within that time I’ve been in the hospital for several months of it. I could try and quantify the amount of different ER trips and hospitalizations we’ve had, but it would be really challenging.
He does his absolute best to come see me when I am hospitalized, even though he works more than full time and lives an hour from the hospital. Somehow, he still finds the strength to come sit with me and keep me company. All while also keeping up with two dogs, two cats, and a million other responsibilities. He’s incredible that way. But I know the strain having to come is on him.
On days not in the hospital I still struggle to be the wife I promised. I always planned to cook, clean, and help financially. But those goals keep slipping further away and I’m left with barely being able to bathe and clothe myself without his help. His sweet patience and calm demeanor make me fall more in love with him every day.
Still, I struggle with my purpose and what I offer to the marriage. Not because of the way he treats me, but because of my own expectations and desires. I also struggle with our sex life and fear I am not performing to his level of needs. I wrote much more in depth about my fears in this post. But the basic point is that even sex is different in a relationship with someone who is chronically sick. Because a chronic illness doesn’t just burden the patient, it burdens their partner too.
Will loves me. He nurtures me, cares for me, and provides for me. And our marriage continues to grow stronger with every challenge we face. We face them as an united front and make decisions together. We have had the vow “in sickness and in health” challenged over and over. But each time we dig deeper and discover new strengths we did not have before.
Being sick has not been easy, and never will. However, having Will on my team has made it manageable. He does so many helpful things, from little tasks like giving me my medicine, to huge things like paying the bills. He comforts me when I cry. He holds me up when I feel like crumbling. And he encourages me every day that I can (and will) get better. He now acts as my health advocate and can accurately describe my health history. His anxieties left him unable to go to the hospital with me when we first got together, so the transformation has been huge.
I encourage those in a relationship to have honest, open communication. Feeling safe enough to express all fears, frustrations, and abnormal thoughts transformed our marriage and helped my anxiety. I encourage you to check in with each other regularly to discuss finances, health status, and stress levels. Having a set, weekly conversation is a great way to start tough discussions and be honest about anything that may be straining the relationship. (This is advice I share with all people in a relationship, but it is especially poignant for those with a chronic illness.)
Will and I will continue to work on our marriage and seek new ways of dealing with the onslaught of negativity coming our way. We will communicate, support each other, and commit to our vows. I hope you do, too!