Since I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, my husband has had to do all the secular work. But he never talks to me about our bills. Why does he leave me completely in the dark like this? Our finances must be in such bad shape that he knows I’ll panic if I find out.—Nancy.*
MARRIAGE can be a challenge, but when one mate becomes chronically ill while the other remains healthy, complications can multiply.* Are you caring for an infirm mate? If so, do any of the following questions worry you: ‘How will I cope if my mate’s health declines even further? How long can I continue to take care of my mate and also do all the cooking, cleaning, and secular work? Why do I feel guilty for being the healthy one?’
On the other hand, if you are the ailing spouse, you might wonder: ‘How can I respect myself when I’m unable to carry my load of responsibility? Does my mate resent me for being sick? Is our happiness as a couple over?’
Sadly, some marriages have not survived the strain caused by a chronic illness. Yet, this does not mean that your marriage is doomed to failure.
Many couples survive and even thrive despite the presence of a chronic ailment. Consider, for example, Yoshiaki and Kazuko. A spinal injury rendered Yoshiaki unable to make even the slightest movement without assistance. Kazuko explains: “My husband needs assistance with everything. As a result of caring for him, my neck, shoulders, and arms ache, and I am an outpatient at an orthopedic hospital. I often feel that caregiving is overwhelming.” Despite the difficulties, however, Kazuko says: “Our bond as a couple has become stronger.”
What, then, is the key to happiness under such circumstances? For one thing, those who retain a healthy measure of satisfaction and contentment in their marriage view the illness as an assault not only on the ailing spouse but on the two of them as a couple. After all, if one mate is sick, both are deeply affected, even if in different ways. This interdependent relationship between a husband and wife is described at Genesis 2:24: “A man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” Thus, when a spouse has an ongoing physical ailment, it is critical that both husband and wife work together to meet the challenge.
Additionally, research shows that couples who maintain a good relationship in the face of chronic illness accept their situation and learn effective ways to adapt to it. Many of the coping skills that they have learned echo the timeless advice found in the Bible. Consider the following three suggestions.
Show Consideration for One Another
“Two are better than one,” states Ecclesiastes 4:9. Why? Because, explains verse 10, “if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up.” Do you ‘raise your partner up’ with expressions of appreciation?
Are you able to look for ways to be of practical assistance to each other? Yong, whose wife is partially paralyzed, says: “I try to be considerate of my wife on every occasion. Whenever I feel thirsty, I consider that she too might be thirsty. If I want to go outside and view the beautiful scenery, I ask her if she would like to join me. We are sharing the pain and enduring the situation together.”
On the other hand, if you are receiving care from your mate, are there certain things that you can do for yourself without threatening your health? If so, this can boost your feelings of self-worth and may contribute to your mate’s ability to continue providing care.
Rather than assume that you know the best way to show consideration for your spouse, why not ask him or her what would be most appreciated? Nancy, mentioned at the outset, eventually told her husband how she was affected by not knowing the family’s financial status. Now her husband endeavors to be more communicative in this regard.
TRY THIS: List ways that you feel your mate can make your present situation a little easier, and have your spouse do the same. Then switch lists. Each of you should select one or two suggestions that can realistically be implemented.
Have a Balanced Schedule
“For everything there is an appointed time,” wrote wise King Solomon. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) However, it may seem impossible to maintain a balanced schedule, given the disrupting effect that a chronic sickness can have on a family’s routine. What can you do to achieve at least a measure of balance?
Together you might take regular breaks from serious medical concerns. Can you still enjoy some of the things you shared before illness struck? If not, what new activities can you try? It could be something as simple as reading to each other or as challenging as learning a new language. Having a life together outside the illness will strengthen your “one flesh” bond—and increase your happiness.
Another aid to maintaining balance is being in the company of others. The Bible states at Proverbs 18:1: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” Did you note in that verse that isolation can have an undesirable effect on the mind? By contrast, periodic association with others can lift your spirits and help restore mental perspective. Why not take the initiative to invite someone to visit you?
At times, balance becomes a problem for caregiving spouses. Some take on too much work, slowly wear down, and endanger their own health. Eventually, they may even render themselves unable to continue providing care for their beloved mate. So if you are taking care of a chronically ill spouse, do not ignore your personal needs. Set aside regular quiet time to refresh yourself.* Some have found it therapeutic to talk out their anxieties from time to time with a trusted friend of the same sex.
TRY THIS: List on paper the obstacles you face in taking care of your mate. Then make a list of steps you might take to overcome these or to cope with them more effectively. Instead of overanalyzing them, ask yourself, ‘What is the simplest, most obvious way to improve the situation?’
Try to Maintain a Positive Outlook
The Bible warns: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) So avoid dwelling on what might have been. Remember that in this world, all happiness is limited in some way. The key here is to accept your situation and make the best of it.
What can help you and your mate in this regard? Discuss your blessings together. Take delight in even the smallest improvements in your health. Find things to look forward to, and set reachable goals together.
A couple named Shoji and Akiko have applied the above advice with good results. At one point after Akiko was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, they had to leave a special assignment in the full-time Christian ministry. Were they disappointed? Naturally. Yet, Shoji advises any in similar circumstances: “Do not discourage yourself by thinking about things that you can no longer do. Keep a positive outlook. Even if you both have the hope of returning to a normal routine someday, concentrate for now on your life as it is. For me, that means focusing my attention on my wife and helping her.” Such practical advice can help you too if your spouse has special needs.
Some names have been changed.
This article discusses situations wherein a spouse has an ongoing physical illness. However, couples who are coping with physical problems because of an accident or with emotional difficulties such as depression can also be helped by applying the following material.
Depending on your circumstances, it may be advisable to look into getting at least some part-time help from health-care professionals or community agencies if available.
What do my mate and I most need to do right now?
Talk more about the illness
Talk less about the illness
Show more consideration for each other
Have a mutual interest outside the illness
Have more social contact
Have mutual goals