Do you recall your wedding vows? Did you mean it when you recited them? I want to take a look at one specific one, the one that says “in sickness and in health.” Many couples probably don’t think about what will happen if illness shows up, but it can be catastrophic.
Chronic illness in a relationship can often place a strain on finances, communication, intimacy, emotional wellbeing and more. So when illness breaks the door down in your relationship, you need to be prepared to support your spouse.
Two years ago, my husband was diagnosed with kidney failure due to untreated high blood pressure. My husband and I will celebrate 19 years of marriage next month, so we have had our share of ups and downs. We know what it’s like to have money, and we know what it’s like to both be unemployed at the same time with two kids. We went through the same typical nonsense newlywed couples go through in the first two years of marriage. And now we are on the “in sickness and in health” part of the marriage vows. And I can admit, it’s been one of the more challenging phases in our relationship. But thank God we both know Him! So now, allow me to share some things that have helped me support my husband.
1. Be Strong for Your Spouse
Whatever the illness, whatever the news, it is okay to cry and be upset. But do not cry and be upset too long because negative thoughts will start taking root. When my husband told me from his hospital bed in ICU that his kidneys were gone, I was calm until I hung up.
I didn’t want him to hear me upset because I knew he needed me to be strong. Your spouse is going to need you more now than ever before, so you have to get your mind right. Get your mind right by praying and stay in the Word, stay in church. Prayer works and the peace of God is what you need.
2. Join in on Your Spouse’s Medical Team
When outside of the doctor’s care, be the reinforcement your spouse needs at home. Make sure you, too, listen to the doctors. Get all the information you need, special diet, any special exercise, and encourage your spouse to follow of any doctor-recommended advice and attend all the scheduled doctor appointments. Attend as many appointments as you can with him/her. They will love the support.
Keep up with medications, keep a list of medications on your phone because you will need them for doctor and/or hospital visits. I always ask my husband if he’s taken his medicine. At times, I think I’m nagging him about it. But he’s told me he likes that I keep up with it, and it makes him feel like there’s someone else looking out for his health too.
3. Maintain as Much Normalcy as Possible
This will depend on the type of illness, but try not to deviate too far from normal life and the things you enjoy. With my husband, I know that on his dialysis days, he doesn’t need to do too much physical activity, so I plan events accordingly.
At first, I had selfish moments; I was mad that we couldn’t travel to places for a week at a time due to his need for three-days-a-week dialysis treatments. But I had to grow up and realize his health matters more than my desire to go out of town. So, we now go places not too far from home to get away and enjoy each other. Speaking of normalcy, try to have sex—a lot.
4. Even When It Gets Hard, Think Positively
Don’t get weary in your well doing and caregiving. You will get mentally tired because you will still have to work, take care of the house and look out for the kids—all while probably doing more for your spouse.
Fortunately for us, our kids are 19 and 22, so I don’t have to worry about dealing with small kids. But if you do, you will probably want to use a schedule for all their activities, your activities, as well as appointments for your spouse. You can do this, don’t faint. The power of positive thinking will do wonders not just for you, but your spouse as well. Despite everything you are both going through, if you allow the light to shine on your situation, you’re bound to see brighter days.
5. Make Time for Yourself
You cannot help your spouse if you do not take care of yourself. Your physical, mental and spiritual health is important. Do not take on more than you can handle. Learn to say “no” to friends and extended family if you cannot participate or take on certain tasks.
Furthermore, ask for some assistance from extended family members, so you can have more time to tend to your needs. Don’t neglect your hobbies and interests. Once again, your happiness will be contagious, and your spouse needs to see you happy too.
6. Watch Who You Listen To
Do not allow negative people to speak over you and your spouse. Everyone is not equipped with the skills needed to take care of a spouse with a chronic illness. You may hear folk say they don’t know how you are doing it or they couldn’t take care of someone like that, so on and so forth. Let your answer be “that’s why God blessed me to be the one.”
7. Restructure Your Budget
Depending on the illness, your family could be spending more money in medical care or your spouse may be forced to leave work. In our case, my husband was awarded SSI and Medicare.
In these cases, adjustments will have to be made regarding finances. Talk about money together, do not argue over money; now is not the time. Cut back on what you can, and live by a budget. Do not become bitter about having to be the breadwinner; it doesn’t matter who’s making the most money because you two are one, and your bank account needs to reflect that.
Focus on each other and do what you can during this period of illness. Be patient, know that God is a healer and never lose your confidence in the Word of God. That is the main thing that has helped us. My husband has always had a sense of humor, and kidney failure has not stopped him at all. We still enjoy our life, we spend a lot of time together, and I feel like we have become even closer to each other. No one can predict what road your marriage may take. We certainly were not counting on a chronic illness. But if this is your life right now, be encouraged, be strong and know that it is God who will give you the strength to support your spouse with a chronic illness.
BMWK family, how are you supporting your spouse with a chronic illness?