Your Spouse Has a Chronic Illness—Here Are Ways of Coping

Care for your partner should not get in the way of your well-being

Credit: Zinkevych.

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Chronic illness can happen to anyone, and many married couples are affected by it. There may come a day when your partner is diagnosed with a serious illness that will affect both of your lives. Here are coping strategies to help your marriage through this difficult time.

Just Diagnosed

According to figures provided by the RAND Corporation, nearly 60% of Americans have at least one type of chronic condition. In most cases, the healthy spouse will take up caregiving for their affected partner. Consider these three tactics for handling the initial news: 

  1. Seek help through your community resources and through your family. Statistics suggest that some marriages will eventually fail as a result of a chronic illness; trying to cope with a chronic illness alone can tear your marriage apart.
  2. Talk with each other. Talk about your fears, your hopes, and your expectations of your lives with chronic illness. Listen to what your spouse has to say.
  3. Accept that there is not just one answer or easy way to face the challenges of chronic illness in your marriage. Each couple will face this time in their marriage in their own unique way.

The Emotions Associated with Chronic Illness in a Marriage

Both spouses will have to learn how to cope with many feelings about the reality of the illness and how it affects their lives. Some days will be good days and other days will not. Every day, without a break for you as the caregiver, will be tiring. These feelings and realities often include: 

  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Isolation
  • Grief
  • Sense of being trapped
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Anxiety (this may include financial or other types of domestic anxieties)
  • Sexual fears
  • Spiritual doubts
  • Parenting concerns
  • Uncertainty about future
  • Nervousness
  • Helplessness

Coping Strategies for a Well Spouse

  • Do things to keep yourself both healthy and sane.
  • Create​ a balance between love and independence.
  • Take time to pursue the things that renew you.
  • Get away regularly—even if it is a walk around the block. 
  • Develop a strong support network. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
  • If you are a person of faith, try to view the experience as a spiritual journey or with optimism. You may have a community of faithful that you can rely on for support as well. 
  • Don't try to do everything yourself. Accept things you can't do and things you don't want to do and make decisions on who will do those tasks.
  • Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Don't put your own health issues on the back burner because your spouse is ill. 

The challenges that life can present have the potential of bringing you closer or tearing you apart. Flexibility and openness along with good communication between the two of you are keys to remaining close to one another during the challenge of a chronic illness.