How to Cope When Your Spouse Has a Chronic Illness

Remember You Have to Take Care of Yourself

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Chronic illness can and probably will happen to all married couples. One of you will get sick. Very sick. Here are coping strategies to help your marriage through this difficult time.

Gregg Piburn wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that "nearly half the U.S. population has some form of chronic illness, such as diabetes, arthritis or ulcers."

One of you being a caregiver for the other is a reality for most couples.

  1. The first thing you need to do when dealing with chronic illness is to agree to reach out for help. Trying to cope with a chronic illness alone can tear your marriage apart. Statistics indicate that a large percentage (approximately 75%) of marriages dealing with a chronic illness will eventually fail. Help can be found in community resources and through your family. But you have to ask for help.
  2. The second most important task is to talk with each other. Talk about your fears, your hopes, your expectations. And listen to what your spouse has to say.
  3. And third, 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 Feelings and Reality of Chronic Illness in a Marriage

Both spouses will have to learn how to cope with many feelings and realities. Some days will be good days.

Some days will be bad days. 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 at feeling in a rut
  • Depression
  • Anxiety over money problems
  • Sexual fears
  • Spirituality issues and 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.
  • 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.