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 didn’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.
When that happened, 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.
Despite all the help, we weren’t able to really come back after this happened. Unfortunately, some of the things that occurred during this period created resentments on both parts that we never really got over… and that eventually lead to our divorce.
Communication and Intimacy are Key.
Another aspect we struggled with was communication and intimacy. Despite what most think, intimacy has nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with communication.
Intimacy is that ability to share your deepest passions, your deepest fears, your deepest worries without judgement.
Intimacy is about more than just sex. It's about being able to share your feelings and communicate with each other without fear of judgement. Click To Tweet
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.
Don’t let your chronically ill partner push you away.
The best advice I can give you is to not let her push you away.
My advice is 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?
- When you are jealous of your healthy spouse
- The impact of chronic illness on a marriage
- The effect of fibromyalgia on marriage
- Fibromyalgia and sexual dysfunction
gavin steers says
My gf kicked me and my kids out 2 months ago, she has been pushing me away for the last year or so, I’d tell her I loved her she would ask aggressively why!? I would tell her she’s beautiful and she would say no I’m not in the same manner, she has fibromyalgia and vascular compression aswell as other things most recently she has been diagnosed with a hole in her bowel, she is very meticulous with cleaning and as her carer I told her to ask me when she saw something she wanted done as we look at things differently and that I would never say no to her, she would make an issue of that saying she shouldn’t have to ask, she has held onto every argument we have ever had and causes me of twisting things when she refuses to accept she can be difficult, I love her and have tried but she blocked me and refuses to even talk about things
I’m sorry you are going through that. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do there, but accept that she’s made a decision.
I can’t speak to her specific state of mind, but I can say that as a woman it is incredibly tiring to be told “if something needs done just ask me” because it’s your /his house too, so no we shouldn’t have to constantly have to ask for help. There is a middle point in there where the two of you can sit down together and discuss the household chores and divide them up. I get that if you’ve never been the one to take care of the house what needs done doesn’t automatically come to mind, but it is exhausting carrying all that burden all the time. And, when we are already exhausted from physical ailments at some point it does reach a point where you feel that it would be easier alone rather than carrying the emotional /household/ etc burden of multiple people.
Just ran across this in a google search. Thank you for sharing. I really relate. When I got to the bottom and read about you, Julie…I was shocked. I have all the same diagnoses as you, minus endometriosis. Your blog is very helpful. I wish you a pain free day.
Sorry to hear you are suffering as well. I’m glad you found my blog helpful, though. Wishing you a pain-free day as well.
Oh my God, I’m so thankful for you to post this. I’m going through a very similar situation, except I’m the opposite end of the ecuation. My girlfriend was diagnosed with spondylitis and last Friday the doctor told her her symptoms were getting worse, despite the fact we love each other so much and we have plans to get married, right after she received the bad news, she started to push me away drastically, asking me to give her some time, cutting all kind of communication and making promise her that I would meet other girls and carry on with my life, the hardest part of all this is that she told me (via voice message) that she loved me, that she couldn’t bare the idea of not being with me and that if she got better she would come back and fight for me to never let me go ever again. That was devastating for me, I’m so heart broken and I feel helpless. So, I’m so glad I found this website so I don’t feel so alone while dealing with this. Thanks again
I’m so sorry you are going through this. Give her time and (if she will allow it) try to be supportive and show her that you aren’t going anywhere just because she’s ill. The fear on our (the chronically ill person’s) end is that our illness will make your life harder and that we are putting so much extra on you that you didn’t sign up for. But, that’s life. We always get more than we sign up for – sometimes it’s chronic illness, sometimes it’s something else. We don’t know what life will bring and the ability to work together to get through these stresses is what proves the metal of a couple.
Nicholas P. Kalogeresis says
I just read this article and the above comment and I just went through the same thing with my girlfriend who was just diagnosed with a rare muscle disorder. She was already wheelchair bound. She will lose most muscle function over time. She said the exact same thing to me: I should find a new “healthy” girlfriend that can meet my needs. She does not want to be a burden to me. She hasn’t spoken to me in a month and I fear the relationship has ended. I’m sure she has depression. While I’m personally devastated, this article helped me understand what happened.
Nicholas, I’m so sorry you are going through this. I know you are hurting. Please know that she’s grieving as well and her actions aren’t about you, but are about her and what she’s dealing with and hoping to protect you from. I don’t know the answer on how to change her mind, or if it’s even possible to convince her to allow you to support her through this, but I’m glad you were able to get some level of consolation and understanding through my post.
You posted this last year. Please tell me if things have changed since then? I’m also in a similar situation where my boyfriend’s health is deteriorating as well. And each time he gets sick and has health concerns, he always pushes me away. The idea of “maybe there’s someone else” sometimes pops up in my head. I’m hurting knowing that he always pushes me away with very little communication etc. I just want to know from your experience, what do you suggest I do? He is 17 years older than me and I would still very much like to be in his life.
For me, they did not. I was divorced in 2017, but my illness only played a small role in the issues we had, exacerbating bigger issues that were there from the start. I probably stayed longer than I should have out of fear of the unknown and worry that I couldn’t survive on my own. I’ve actually done really well since then and am much happier for having left. I’m in a much happier place now, with someone who is supportive and who I’ve never felt the need to push away because I’ve never had any doubts that he’s all in and will be there with me no matter what.
Nicholas P. Kalogeresis says
I have an exact similar story Ray. Any news can you saher on what has happened since your post? My girlfriend said the exact same thing to me when she received a poor prognosis for a rare muscle disease.