Nurturing Your Marriage Through Your Spouse’s Illness

Your world is turned upside down when your spouse receives a serious disease diagnosis or is rendered incapacitated. This upsetting development affects you all personally, but it also requires your marriage to adjust to a new normal. Your plans may fade and be replaced by feelings of worry and anxiety in place of your assumptions about your future together. It’s possible that you and your spouse find yourselves in a precarious and unclear situation.

It’s a club that none of us want to belong to, but in the course of a marriage, most of us will become spousal caregivers. This is an all-volunteer club without distinction. The age range, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status of its members are all varied. When one partner experiences a major illness or disability that has never been experienced before, a marriage may be put to the test. Without a doubt, the loss of our partner’s health may have an impact on every facet of our lives, whether it be due to a physical or mental illness. Caring for a loved one may be a somber and meaningful duty at times, and it is common to feel helpless and seek advice to help us through our suffering and find serenity and hope.

Accepting a new normal

When serious disease shows up at our door, it is never welcome. Even though we find the intrusion intolerable, we must learn to live with the possibility that it will be around for some time, if not our spouse’s entire life. We have to adjust to this reality as it becomes the new normal in our life. Even if we might think that our lives are, or ought to be, on hold, we nevertheless need to learn how to go about our daily business in the face of uncertainty. It is often not realistic for us to imagine we can wait out our spouse’s illness and return to the way things were. This period of time may persist for a long time. Even if we are in limbo, as a couple, we go forward and make the new normal a part of who we are.

Living your old life too

There are a lot of features of our former existence that persist in our relationship, even after we come to terms with its new reality. We commemorate holidays, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and new newborns. We attend work, school, and social gatherings. We want to support other family members who are dealing with personal or health issues. It’s critical that we resist letting our spouse’s disease take away the pleasures, emotions, pursuits, and connections that define our identity. We shall lose ourselves and discover that the only identities we have left are those of caregiver and patient if we completely break free from the routine and familiar. Being present in our lives keeps us linked to the people and things that are significant to us and enables us to preserve our sense of self.

Allowing yourself to grieve

Most of the time, we associate sorrow with the loss of a loved one. However, there are a lot of losses that come with disease, and it’s okay to recognize and experience them. Though it may not be something you want to discuss freely with your partner, it is not beneficial to fully avoid or disregard the painful emotions that come with a major disease or handicap. Naming your loss specifically might be quite beneficial.

For instance, you might be upset that you won’t be able to arrange a trip for the near future if your friend tells you she and her husband are taking a cruise next year. You may mourn the loss of your spouse’s capacity if they are unable to work or take care of household chores. You can be saddened by the loss of your sense of security, optimism, and future expectations. Since you are allowing yourself to recognize and validate actual losses that are happening in your life, this process differs from worrying.

Finding opportunities to grow

Sometimes, getting out of bed in the morning and doing the chores that need to be done can feel like a victory when your partner is ill. But is there any way you can develop? Things you are able to acquire? Perhaps you discover a fresh appreciation for your bravery, selflessness, empathy, and strength. Maybe you even picture yourself reaching farther than you ever thought possible.

We have the chance to give our life the greatest purpose and build a relationship with our spouse that is more genuine than it was before to the health crisis when we effectively navigate challenging circumstances or when we overcome fatigue and anxiety to reach our peak functional level. This awareness may not be there all the time or even frequently because providing care can also be incredibly depressing and burdensome. But it can be satisfying and motivating when you can identify the more transcendent times.

Treasuring time together

We frequently take the people closest to us for granted in the daily craziness of life. This can happen, particularly with our wives, and we find ourselves putting other people and activities ahead of our spouses, thinking we can always catch up with them later. However, time spent together could become even more valuable when disease strikes. We might have a strong desire to maximize the time we spend together.

The act of providing care itself may present an opportunity for new kinds of connections. There may be terrible and stressful moments while we are caring for our spouse while they are ill, but we may also feel that what we are doing matters and has an influence. Occasionally, our spouse just needs a warm bath, a satisfying supper, or a back rub to feel relieved or revitalized. Furthermore, it might feel amazing to be the one to help our partner during a difficult period.

During a period of illness, there are numerous additional methods to support your partner, yourself, and your marriage. I have only been able to touch on a handful in this essay. We go into great detail on these and many other subjects in my most recent book, Living in Limbo: Creating Structure and Peace while Someone You Love is Ill, which I co-wrote with Dr. Claire Zilber. I hope all of you who are taking care of your partner will have strength, resiliency, and peace of mind.