The below came from an email sent to me by a reader. After I answered his email I realized that he’s so not alone and that my response might be helpful for many other partner’s of those with chronic illness, so I asked his permission to share his question.
“My wife suffers from chronic illness. It’s taken a toll on our marriage and I’m trying to keep us together, ironically she’s the one leaning towards divorce. I love her, our kids love her (and us together) and I’m struggling to understand why being alone is a better option for her.”
I hope I can maybe help shed some light on how your wife feels even if I may not be able to answer how to best help her.
I was her. During the worst of my illness I was just like her thinking not so much that I’d be better off alone but that those I loved would be better off without me. That my husband would be better off with someone healthy who could meet his needs. We don’t have kids so I can’t really imagine how that may also affect how she feels. When you live with chronic illness depression often takes over and part of that is a feeling that those who love you would be better off without you, that the world would be better off without you. Even if we don’t reach the point of being suicidal, in a way we are, because we are considering ending our life as we know it (even if not our physical life).
Thankfully, my husband didn’t leave when I pushed him away. Not to say we didn’t have some really hard time and there weren’t times where he probably considered it. During the worst of things he stayed though. I think he saw how sick I was and he did (as much as he could) understand that I was doing all I could and that he couldn’t ask me for more.
We struggled more later after I began to get better. He saw improvements and things were more normal for a while, then I got hit again with something and it seemed like at that time that it hit him even worse than it did me. Even so, I know he didn’t want to leave, but he struggled between having his needs met and being with me despite not having them met. It was hard and it required the help of a marriage counselor and commitment on both our parts to push through.
Another aspect we struggled with is communication and intimacy. Intimacy (despite what most think) has nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with communication. It’s that ability to share your deepest passions, your deepest fears, your deepest worries without judgement. When we are all on the defensive (as we often end up when dealing with something as stressful as chronic illness) we are quick to judge. We are quick to think that we have it bad and that our partner can’t understand how we feel therefore why bother sharing it. When they share we don’t listen, instead we are crafting our response to how much worse we have it and how whatever they may be dealing with they don’t understand our side. No, they will never understand our side, nor will we fully understand theirs. But, we each must do what we can to listen to the other side and understand that while what they are going through is different than what we are facing it is no less difficult for them.
You may not be able to hold your partner the way you used to, and trust me they want you to as much as you want them to. It’s killing them that they can’t be touched. They need that touch. But, intimacy is about so much more than that and it’s so much more important right now, when you can’t be intimate physically, that you make every effort to be intimate with your partner mentally.
The best advice I can give you is to not let her push you away. To keep being there for her, to help her un-begrudgingly and without question. If you can see where she needs help just do it, if she asks don’t even pause before providing. Don’t huff, don’t make a noise. Just do it. If you pause she will see it as you not wanting to help and she will eventually stop asking for help (this is something I struggled with). But, also give her space. Don’t crowd her or smother her. She needs to feel she can be as independent as possible (this is where a struggle will occur if you do too much without her asking for help, and this is where you can’t get too upset when she doesn’t ask for help right away or does too much). Independence is so important to us as we deal with our illnesses.
Just do your best to be there for her without question. She is pushing you away right now out of fear. She is also pushing you away out of love. She loves you and wants you to have the best life possible, but doesn’t feel you can have that life with her (not in the state she is currently in). She is not trying to save herself from you, but you from her illness.
Do you live with chronic illness? What advice would you share for our partners and spouses out there? What do you want them to know?
Do you have a partner or spouse with chronic illness? What do you need to know from us?