Unless you were already sick before you met your partner, it’s highly likely that your relationship took a drastic change when you became ill. Perhaps you had a great sex life, you went out often and did lots of things together, you traveled, you enjoyed life. I know that’s how it was with my marriage.
Then I got sick and we discovered that there is an impact of chronic illness on marriage.
Since then we’ve had ups and downs. We’ve had times where I felt good enough that our lives (and sex lives) seemingly returned to normal. We put my illness out of our minds and enjoyed life again. And then, BOOM, there it was. Something would happen that would remind us that it wasn’t over, that I AM actually chronically ill and that this illness is going to be a part of our lives forever.
For almost two years I was feeling good again. Thanks to major diet and lifestyle changes I was feeling good. The pain was minimal, if at all, and energy levels returned to normal. So did our sex life. At least for a little while.
Then sudden abdominal/pelvic pain ruined the fun. Two surgeries later and I was doing well again and once again things looked normal for a while and then BOOM there it was again. A shoulder injury that resulted in serious pain for even minor movement = Sex Life Dead.
Deny it as much as we might like, but sex is an important part of a marriage. It’s a need that SHOULD be fulfilled. When needs aren’t being met, we struggle, we stress, we fight. And that goes for any need within a relationship. There are two sides of this coin and neither of them are very pretty.
In 2017, I divorced my husband. I would not say that the failure of our marriage was completely due to chronic illness. I think there were a lot of factors as far as personality that affected how we interacted with each other. That said, I do feel that things really started falling apart after I hurt my shoulder in 2014. I’d been doing well for about 2 years prior and that injury sent us into a tailspin.We don't choose to be chronically ill, but we can make choices that lead to happiness. Click To Tweet
We went through couples counseling with two different counselors and it only got slightly better. Over the course of the next few years, even as my health improved again, we were strained. There was a lot of resentment on both sides that had built up as a result of what transpired when I hurt my shoulder. In the end, I felt I would be happier if we were no longer married. So far, that has proven correct.
On one side you have the chronically ill partner. They have needs, too – sexual, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.
Unfortunately, the chronic pain that comes with issues like Fibromyalgia get in the way of fulfilling not just sexual needs but physical needs in general. Even a hug is often painful so we are left feeling physically disconnected from those we love. That physical disconnection can often lead to a mental and emotional disconnect, when our loved ones misinterpret our lack of physical contact.
On the other side is the healthy partner who, while they see that their partner is hurting, doesn’t always disconnect their partner’s pain from their own. Instead of stopping to think about how much pain their partner is in and how much their partner is missing out on because of the pain, the healthy partner will often focus on what their partner is not GIVING them. This can cause them to withdraw or even lash out in anger.
The withdrawal by the healthy partner often leads to a vicious circle where the ill partner withdraws to protect themselves, leading to resentment on both sides.
So, what can you do to reduce the impact of chronic illness on marriage? It’s easier said than done. However, I’d suggest two things.
1. Get Counseling.
Every couple who finds that they are facing chronic illness should seek out a marriage counselor to help them work through and voice the feelings that come up in relation to these issues. It can be hard to talk about sex in front of someone who is basically a stranger, but it may be necessary to get a third person involved in order for both partners to be honest. It’s important to start this process early.
A good counselor is vital to coping with chronic illness both solo and as part of a relationship. I’d really suggest that if you can you see a counselor on your own as well as a different counselor as a couple. This will give you a chance to work through any personal issues related to your illness, or otherwise, but also set the stage for the improved communication you will need as you face chronic illness together.
2. Get Support.
Find a good support group for each partner. Not only should the chronically ill partner be involved in a good support group of others who share the illness and can relate to what they are going through, but the healthy partner should be actively involved in a “Caregiver” support group with other partners who can identify with the struggles he (or she) is going through.
It’s important that each spouse try to understand their partner’s point of view. The healthy spouse needs to take time to realize that the ill partner is also missing out on life. The ill spouse also needs to realize that their illness does affect everyone around them. Focusing only on how the changes are affecting you will only lead to increased resentment.
Yes, at times we might be so ill that we don’t think about all that we are missing (and sometimes that’s a good thing), but more often we know what we are missing and it’s depressing.
It’s that feeling of having life pulled out from under us that leads to the depression that is so common with those who are chronically ill.
It’s also important to remind ourselves that they obviously love us. It’s also important for both parties to show love even if it’s not sexually. Intimacy is important even when you live with chronic illness. While we don’t have the choice to walk away from our chronic illness, they do. The fact that they stay says a lot about them, and about how much they really do love us.