What chronic illness does to a marriage?
What chronic illness does to a marriage? It depends on how you look at it…
Last updated: 17/11/2021
Statistics show what chronic illness does to a marriage – it wrecks them!
At least in most cases…
Studies have found that chronic illness plays a big part in the breakdown of relationships. As many as 75% of marriages afflicted with chronic illness end in divorce.
That’s a big number, but there are many factors contributing to it.
My marriage survived the immense challenges chronic illness brought into my relationship. My personal experience taught me lessons I would not learn being married to a healthy woman.
And I don’t regret it. Being with someone who is chronically ill teaches you an appreciation for things you normally wouldn’t care for.
Sure, there are negative aspects of being with a chronically ill woman, but if you really dig deep enough, you’ll find plenty of positive aspects too.
So, let’s discuss what chronic illness does to a marriage…
Table of Contents:
What chronic illness does to marriage depends on gender!
When it comes to men, they are more likely to leave their chronically ill women, whereas it isn’t the case for chronically ill husbands according to this source.
They found this risk to be as much as 6% higher, therefore marriages were more likely to end in divorce when the wife was ill but not when the husband was ill.
I’m so glad that wasn’t the case for me, however, gender roles are often altered.
The ill spouse can leave extra responsibilities on the healthy partner. Men are usually less accustomed to them, like cooking, cleaning, and general caregiving.
To me, it comes naturally. I am a paramedic by trade but I work as a medical carer for disabled young adults, which is usually a female role.
Men find it more stressful adjusting to their new responsibilities. This kind of stress often leads to the breakdown of marriages.
Men have a better chance at remarriage. They have an advantage in the marriage market because women experience a depleting number of potential partners as they age.
Additionally, husbands who feel burdened with extra responsibilities and stress are more likely to divorce in hope of finding another partner.
Despite her own suffering, my wife feels sorry for me. She asked me on numerous occasions to divorce her.
I always declined.
Women have also more support systems than men. They are more likely to rely on people outside of their marriage, like friends and relatives.
Men don’t tend to do that, therefore feeling helpless and unable to gain the support they need to try and fix the marriage.
How does chronic illness impact marriage?
There are two ways how chronic illness impacts a marriage – positively and negatively.
Every marriage goes through this, but despite the chronic illness divorce rate being as high as 75%, I and my wife belong to the 25% who avoided divorce.
How marriages respond to the challenges that chronic illnesses bring varies from one couple to another.
It also depends on the circumstances, including:
- The kind of chronic illness the person has.
- Resilience and character of those affected.
- Taking time off or increased hours of work.
- Plans and goals, the unpredictability of changes.
- Level of support from family, friends, partners.
- Level of support from medical professionals.
- Level of psychological and mental support.
The strain of the challenges may push the couple’s understanding of “in sickness and in health” to its breaking point. This is what chronic illness does to a marriage!
In the 13 years since we met, I supported my wife through the stages of her multiple chronic conditions. But they have taken a toll on me too.
This is where a big problem is. The world focuses on the chronically ill person forgetting entirely that a marriage consists of two people.
Support for partners isn’t widely spoken of. This creates a problem. Chronic Illnesses impacts marriages because there isn’t much awareness of caring partners, especially men.
Men are especially affected by their chronically ill partners because they often don’t speak up.
Men don’t ask for help despite feeling helpless, useless, unheard, forgotten, sad, angry, even resentful at times.
In the same way as women, men feel invisible, unsatisfied, their needs aren’t met.
This leads to disagreements, conflicts, divorce.
The new you...
People who have chronic illnesses must adjust to the illness and its treatment. Chronic illness sometimes affects independence, changing the way the person lives.
Chronically ill people compare themselves to others. They notice changes that are stressful causing despair and sadness, which is normal.
In some cases, chronic illness can trigger clinical depression, it can be potentially serious, especially when it comes to suicidal thoughts.
The lack of understanding of partners, family members, and friends, often causes a chronically ill person the feeling of being fake, invisible, and the feeling of being a burden to everyone.
Understanding what chronic illness does to marriage depends also on how many chronic illnesses are present.
My wife has three chronic conditions, and what we do may differ from other couples who have to deal with only one condition, however, it never ends there.
Even one chronic condition impacts mental health let alone three.
My wife suffers from stage IV deep infiltrating endometriosis, fibromyalgia disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is extremely hard to manage her symptoms because the flare-ups never seem to end.
On top of that, these chronic conditions caused her to develop anxiety, OCD, and depression.
My wife had to adjust to her new way of life, but it really makes her feel down.
Not only does she has to cut on dairy, sugar, and gluten, her diet is pretty boring and depressing.
To be fair to my wife, I try not to eat cheese, meat, spices, cakes, drinks, and other goodies in front of her because it would make my wife feel upset.
M used to be a full-time dancer. Her chronic illnesses reduced her to work from the home part-time medical secretary.
She’s lost her fitness and will to live. M had to adjust to a new way of life.
The loss of her dancing career made her really depressed. It also affected me. Today we dance for fun, but only when she doesn’t have flare-ups.
My wife battles with her emotions daily she still has suicidal thoughts from time to time when I’m at work and she feels alone…
What chronic illness does to a marriage? It impacts it on an emotional, psychological, mental, physical, sexual, social, financial level. Couples often split apart, not to their fault.
What chronic illness does to a marriage mentally?
Chronic illness is impossible to describe if you haven’t been through it yourself. Believe me, I tried for a long time…
A decade later, I still can’t grasp what my wife is really going through. I realized that I never will.
I’m not a woman, I don’t suffer from either of her chronic conditions. I never experienced anxiety, panic attacks, depression…
Standing on the sideline when a partner goes through this feels like a helpless experience. You feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
At times, whenever you attempt to help, you feel rejected, sometimes blamed. And to feel totally helpless when your partner harms herself, it hits you hard! That’s what chronic illness does to a marriage.
There are times when you may feel responsible for your partner’s situation, even though it is nobody’s fault.
When your partner becomes depressed, it seems like there is no way out. Chronic illness and depression can isolate partners despite their best attempts to help.
On occasions I was told to leave her alone and the way my wife expressed it was through shouting. Naturally, you feel judged. I haven’t done anything wrong.
All I tried to do was help, instead, I received negativity. It is the negativity that impacts many relationships and leaves loved ones feeling helpless and afraid.
You notice that your partner seems not to care about finding joy anymore.
The anxiety is also present at all times. And there’s a difference between anxiety and depression.
The symptoms of general anxiety and panic attacks are not the same, but they fall into a similar category. Anxiety is a feeling of worry or nervousness about something uncertain.
Depression has completely different symptoms and can come as a result of prolonged anxiety or not.
Depression may feel like being in a bottomless hole, where the person feels no motivation, no joy, and often feels there is no point in trying to take action to change things anymore.
My wife can feel numb, like nothing matters anymore.
Anxiety gives her a lot of energy, almost as if she lived on their nerves. The experience of bursts of adrenaline is brought by feelings of fear and sometimes anger.
What I’ve found with my wife, is that throughout the day she manages to suppress her feelings of anxiety, fear, and anger, but then they exhibit themselves in the evening, when she settles down and has time to think.
Sometimes when my wife was actually relaxed, not thinking at all, but all of a sudden experienced a panic attack.
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
It can be extremely frightening and can make the person feel like they are losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying. Chronic illness is dreadful, it causes all these emotions.
It seems impossible for someone to experience anxiety and depression at the same time, but people with chronic illness experience anxiety and depression in cycles.
They often experience the symptoms of anxiety which get to a peak, and then this is followed by exhaustion and a feeling of depression.
This cycle can become a continuous one that can destroy the sufferer’s quality of life.
On the other hand, some people do not suffer from anxiety but suffer from a constant depression that never seems to lift, which is equally debilitating.
Either way, it is not easy for the person, but it is also difficult for the person who is trying to help them.
While chronic illness can affect a person physically and mentally, it also has the potential to affect the actual physical structures in the brain.
Physical changes range from inflammation and oxygen restriction to actual shrinking.
How can you help someone who suffers from chronic illness?
An important first step in helping someone is to learn about the illness yourself. Symptoms can vary, they can change over time. It’s never the same, not for everyone.
Every person is different and has differences. In most cases, doctors don’t understand that people are different and treat everyone the same, but when it comes to treatment and managing their illness, everyone has their own individual needs.
We can ask ourselves endlessly what chronic illness does to a marriage and never find all the answers.
What’s important is to find a solution to it.
You can read about chronic illness and consult a professional for more information, however, I found the best way to learn…
The best way to understand what your partner experiences is to openly ask questions and listen, listen, listen… be there.
This is simple, yet powerful. Just listen.
You should acknowledge professional help such as the psychotherapist’s suggestions but the most helpful advice I can give you is – be there, and honestly, openly listen to your loved one.
Don’t talk whenever your partner opens up to you unless they want you to. It’s very important, not to interrupt. Just listen!
Many times, I have caught myself interrupting my wife’s speech trying to give solutions to the problem. In her eyes, I wasn’t listening. My constant interruptions made her feel angry and she always finished our conversation being upset.
The reason for this was (as she explained) was the feeling that she was being ignored and not listened to, while she made her best efforts to explain how she felt.
Trying to suggest solutions while she was talking, felt to her like a total lack of respect on my part for what she had to say.
In other words, if I talked halfway through her sentence, I was ignoring her. So, my interruptions meant I wasn’t there for her.
The best way to help your chronically ill partner is to find available treatment in your area, find support groups, or talk to other people battling the same condition to find out what works for them.
It’s important to help your partner remember that her chronic illness isn’t her fault. Both of you have a common enemy.
For me and my wife, these are endometriosis, fibromyalgia, and CFS.
You need to create a supportive and safe home environment.
You can help your partner by setting small goals and daily achievements. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller tasks can help your partner take small steps toward returning to normal daily activities.
For people who struggle to get out of bed each day, focus on getting up, taking a shower, or even eating a healthy meal.
Your loved one is likely to improve, but you will need to be patient and understanding.
Lastly, suicidal thoughts. The risk of suicide is always elevated during major depressive disorder. It’s important to know the red flags and get immediate medical assistance.
I know how drastic it may sound, but this is exactly what chronic illness does to a marriage. You may lose the person you love if she becomes too overwhelmed with her negative thoughts.
Caring for someone who suffers from chronic illness is emotionally draining for the supporter
It’s very important to practice self-care and think of yourself because if you cannot help yourself, you can’t help your loved one.
If you enjoyed this post, I’d be grateful if you could help me spread it around by sharing it on Twitter, Facebook, or another network.
Also, tell me what do you think about this post?
You may have other ideas of what chronic illness does to a marriage. I will gladly take any suggestions on board, so share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Who am I?
Hi, I’m Lucjan! The reason why I decided to create this blog was my beautiful wife, who experienced a lot of pain in life, but also the lack of information for those who support their partners… [read more]
We only partner with trusted companies offering products that help our readers achieve their goals! If you purchase through our links, we get paid at no additional cost to you! It helps us run the blog… Thank you!