How Chronic Illness Affects Relationships

Marriage is a roller coaster. You start off with the best of intentions: you are going to make this work! After all, you love each other and since love conquers all, what could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, this is somewhat idealistic. Marriages fail for a variety of different reasons: boredom, apathy, contempt, a loss of respect, arguments about money, affairs; the reasons are endless. But what happens if you have a strong marriage and then one partner becomes afflicted with a chronic illness?

Chronic illness colors every part of a relationship, including the finances, jobs, which partner does what at home, caring for the children, and of course sex. If one partner is ill or suffering from chronic pain, they will not be able to do their share and might not even be able to work. This in turn puts a lot of pressure on the other partner, who will be forced to take on more than their fair share of responsibility at home.

There are many reasons why a spouse might become chronically ill. Cancer affects millions of people every year and can lead to many years of ill-health as treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy take their toll. Other long-term conditions include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain syndrome, not to mention mental health problems such as bipolar and schizophrenia.


For Better or Worse

Plighting your troth to someone, agreeing to spend the rest of your life with them, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, is a huge commitment. Or at least it should be, despite the fact that many people walk away from their marriage with no qualms whatsoever. Because of this, it is very important that you both realize you are in this together. To make a marriage work when one partner is suffering from a chronic illness requires even more love, commitment and a desire to work together.

Marriage is a Partnership

Marriage is a partnership and unless you work together, you won’t be able to cope with the changes that occur when one partner falls ill. Both of you will need to make significant adjustments to everyday life. The sick partner will have to be open and honest about how they are feeling instead of trying to protect their spouse by not talking about things that might be troubling them. The well partner will need to help out more with the household chores and perhaps take on the burden of becoming the primary earner or even carer.

Communication is essential in a marriage where one partner is chronically ill. You need to talk about how things are going to change and how best to deal with these changes. For example, on a purely practical level, if the sick partner is the main wage earner, the family finances need to be organized so that the family isn’t driven to the brink of ruin. Both of you need to be comfortable with any changes that naturally occur as a result of one person no longer being able to contribute in a financial or practical way.

Take Control of the Situation

Anxiety and sadness are common emotions when we are dealing with chronic illness. Many chronic illnesses are unpredictable, so it is important that you educate yourself as much as possible. The more you take back control, the easier it will be to deal with the illness. The internet is a valuable resource, so use it to find out as much as you can about treatment options and alternative therapies. For example, if you think Michigan pain specialists will help, go online and ask other people on related forums who they recommend you try.

Be Willing to Compromise

Marriage is all about compromise: both partners have to be willing to do things they might not want to do because pleasing your partner is sometimes very important. As the caregiver, you shouldn’t subjugate your needs entirely, even if taking care of your partner takes up the majority of your time. It is very important that you look after your own emotional and physical health. After all, if you get ill, how will you look after your loved one?

It is perfectly possible to enjoy a loving and fulfilling marriage even if one partner has a chronic illness. Many couples become even stronger as a result of dealing with chronic illness and the effect this has on the family, but if despite everything your marriage doesn’t survive, take comfort in the fact that you gave it your all.

What has been your experience with chronic illness in marriage? 




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I'm Crystal. I'm married to Dale, and mother to Johnny.Some might say that my life is perfect because I get to do all the cliché wife things like cooking, cleaning, and decorating - but there's more! I also have many hobbies including needlework (crochet), sewing, and reading. My son's education is important, so we homeschool him together.

4 comments on “How Chronic Illness Affects Relationships”

  1. I’ve had Crohn’s Disease for over 20 years. I guess the upside of that is that my husband knew what he was getting into! His mom also has Ulcerative Colitis, so he had a pretty good understanding of living with someone with a chronic illness. He definitely sometimes has to shoulder more responsibility, but when I’m healthy, I do the same for him. For us, I think what works best is that we don’t have unrealistic expectations. Our house will never look like a model showroom. We’re not going to entertain guests every week. We prioritize quality time with each other, even if I’m too sick to do anything except cuddle and watch Star Trek.

    • Thank you so much for sharing so much of your own personal experience with us. Del suffers from some health issues (that he’s not ready to announce on here yet) and they have drastically changed our lifestyle. Like you and your husband, we strive to have quality time with each other even if it’s cuddling and enjoying our shows.

      Thank you so much for commenting. I hope that you’ll come back again soon.

  2. My mom was sick when I was a kid, luckily my parents were closer because of it. Unfortunately she passed away when I was in my teens. Being sick is the hardest thing in life. Great pointers.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you had to deal with your mom being sick and losing her so early. I’m glad that in your case you still got to see love in action. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

      I’m glad you stopped by and I hope to see you again soon.

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