A long-term health challenge places great stress on a marriage. It won’t be better in a few days. It won’t blow over. It won’t ease up next month, when the deadline is met or the season is over. It will continue indefinitely.
A chronic health problem for one marriage partner requires the renegotiation of roles and duties for both. Thus, there is often much strife early on. At the beginning, neither knows this is long term. Each grows impatient as weeks pass, then months, and no recovery is in sight.
“Why aren’t you well yet?” he says.
“I have no idea!”
“Well, you look fine to me.”
“I wish!” I roll my eyes. “Believe me, I’m more sorry that I’m sick than you are.”
Doctors often have no solutions. Possible remedies don’t work. Chafing and shortness between partners result. Nothing improves. Autoimmune disorders actually end marriages.
Travis Nicholson via Compfight
At first, we had these arguments. I had to stop being a workaholic perfectionistic control freak, learning to release tasks I could no longer complete. I had no idea how to live with low energy or how to prioritize my health.
He had to take on many of my responsibilities and to arrive home with a flexible mindset, never knowing until he walked in the door if he’d be fixing supper and caring for me rather than relaxing from his ten- to twelve-hour workday.
Parts of this were smooth. Parts weren’t.
Learning to serve above and beyond previous expectations is hard work, so is learning to be chronically sick. He was back to doing all the things he did each time we had a new baby. I was in uncharted territory. But as months turned into years, our commitment to one another became more important than our rights as individuals.
This was “for better or worse, in sickness and in health.” We had vowed, and we love one another. That my husband lives his commitment fills my heart with gratitude to God and to him. It is a mercy beyond counting!
Enabling me to rise above my circumstances, he excels at growing the following qualities in our relationship:
Grace – 2 Corinthians 12:9
When we are weak, God’s power works within us, enabling us and bringing growth. We both need grace. My life now revolves around my health, and his now circles round serving me. At times one of us hits the wall. We feel we cannot do this anymore. In that moment, the strong one reminds the other of God’s grace and allows kindness and mercy to cover the meltdown. My husband does this far more gracefully than I do.
Patience – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; James 1:2-5
Of course when we married over thirty-eight years ago, we knew “sickness” and “worse” would replace “health” and “better” at some point in our marriage. But it is here. This is the time. It may never change. Patience produces godly character. We remind one another.
Laughter – Proverbs 17:22
It’s easier to live with a sick person who has a sense of humor. Likewise, it’s easier for me when he handles my condition with kindness and laughter. It’s good medicine. When we remember one another’s struggle, we can purposefully lighten the other’s load with good cheer. My husband’s cheerfulness helps me immensely, and mine helps him.
Forgiveness – Colossians 3:12-14
There are days we are not full of grace. We are impatient, and we certainly don’t feel like laughing. He misses the “old me,” and I do, too. Then we ask Jesus to help us to forgive hurtful words or cranky attitudes. He does this better than me. The man is a rock.
Trusting God – Matthew 6:25-27; Philippians 4:8-9
A chronic illness can be terrifying. Usually we remain in the now, getting through what is right before us, trusting God and not worrying. But sometimes we must stare the beast in the face, accept what may come, let go of who we once were, and march forward. Each strategy has its time and place. Each can only be accomplished by the grace of God. More often than not, I’m the one who needs to be reminded, and he lifts me up.
By God’s grace, this illness has brought greater unity to our marriage. More than ever, we help one another to grab the needed strategy. In this way, we both draw closer to Jesus in our marriage.
We’re only four years in, and I’m more grateful than ever for the man I married and the role of encourager, provider, and supporter that he holds in my life.
If you’re in a chronic situation, how is it going?