In Sickness and in Health: Keeping Your Marriage Strong when a Chronic Illness Happens
“In sickness and in health.”
My husband and I lived those vows before we ever got engaged.
In fact, we’d only been dating about six months when I rushed him to the emergency room because he couldn’t breathe. Two weeks of living in the ICU, a frightening cardiomyopathy diagnosis, and a new reality that he would need a heart transplant was not how either of us had imagined the next season of our relationship would look.
Thankfully, my husband never needed that heart transplant. He was determined from the beginning he was going to overcome the odds and he strongly believed God had already healed him. It took time, but eventually the test results proved he had recovered to nearly perfect health. How did he cope in the meantime? He kept living, stayed busy, took his medication, and never worried about tomorrow. How did I cope? I worried. Every single day.
Fifteen years later, it’a my turn to face health problems. The diagnosis was hypothyroidism, then changed soon after to thyroiditis. If you’ve ever had thyroid problems or know someone who has, you know it’s sort of a silent illness that brews on the inside while you look totally (almost) normal on the outside. For most people, thyroid problems are chronic – something you have to deal with for the rest of your life.
Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case for me. Mine is temporary, but in the meantime I’ve been one hot, hormonal fluctuating mess. How have I coped? I’ve worried and obsessed over it every single day. How has my husband coped? He keeps living, stays busy, encourages me when I’m down, and never worries about tomorrow.
You and your spouse are different. You probably cope with life’s ups and downs differently. But one thing is for certain: If you haven’t already, at some point in your marriage one of you will face illness. Perhaps it won’t be anything severe, but it might have enough personal debilitating impact to cause distress. How the two of you cope through it will make a world of difference in the strength of your marriage.
Here are some things I’ve learned as my husband and I have worked through our seasons of illness.
Take your health seriously, but don’t obsess about it.
Research the health problem on your own so you have an understanding of what to expect and how to overcome it, or how to reduce symptoms. Once you’ve gathered adequate information, put it into action accordingly, and then move forward with life. Take any prescribed medication as instructed, and follow up with your doctor when you’re supposed to.
Your spouse will appreciate that you’re taking your health seriously, but they will get frustrated if you allow it to become an obsession. It should not be the center of every conversation. It should not consume your every thought.
Pray with your spouse about your health.
Definitely take time together to seek God in prayer over your situation. There is no health problem too big for God to handle. Praying over it doesn’t necessarily mean He’ll miraculously take it away from you, although He might! But He will give you peace of mind, ease your symptoms, and comfort you as you head into this new chapter of life.
Plan fun dates with your spouse.
You and your spouse need to have quality time together doing things that help life feel fun and normal again. Whether it’s dinner and a movie, or an afternoon of playing games at the dining room table, do something you both enjoy, preferably something that keeps you busy, engaged with each other in conversation, or laughing.
Do your best to keep the passion burning in the bedroom.
If you’re able to have sex, you should try to make it happen on a regular basis. Your spouse understands you’re sick, but they have needs, too. They love being with you, touching you, feeling you! Physical intimacy is vital to keeping a strong marital bond. Plus it’s good for you! Not only does it feel great, but sex is very helpful and healing to the body as it releases stress, relieves pain, and helps keep hormones regulated.
Be patient and offer grace.
Your spouse may not understand what you’re going through. They aren’t inside your body or your mind to truly grasp how you’re feeling, or even how you’re coping. But they do love you and they certainly want you to be healthy. Their heart is in the right place. So if your spouse seems pushy about a particular health detail or even disinterested, just know this is hard for them, too, and they are doing the best they can to cope and support you through it.
Have you had to live out those “In sickness and in health” wedding vows yet? What advice would you share that helped you and your spouse cope?
Read more from the series here…