The Bible says, “The two will become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:31) So when illness intrudes upon a marriage by grabbing hold of one of the partners, it can become powerfully invasive.
It can steal away from you so many of the dreams you have planned out together and reduce them into living one day at a time instead, trying to cope with each trial the illness brings with it.
It can also test the metal of each spouse’s value system and character in what they are willing to do, to help their ailing partner.
When Illness Intrudes Upon Marriage
“Marriage is two people traveling together, each one more concerned with the other’s well-being than with his or her own.” (J.L. Hardesty)
The Bible says in Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It also says, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24)
But when the strained dailiness of living with a very ill partner hits your home, it can be the last thing that comes to mind. There is a continual call for “dying to self” and dying to dreams and “normalcy.” Yet, that is what the vow you gave “to have and to hold in sickness and in health” demands, when illness intrudes upon your marriage. I know this personally to be true with some serious illnesses we have had to battle in our marriage.
I agree with the following advice Helena Madsen gives on this issue in dealing with illness:
“Change your vocabulary. Facing and dealing with chronic illness has never been limited to just the chronic partner. Chronic illness always affects both parties in a marriage. Use the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ when talking about the illness. Notice your level of connectedness and how your emotional intimacy grows.”
And that’s true. My husband and I have witnessed this in our own marriage while battling the effects of Type 1 Diabetes. There are other illnesses that won’t go away and have invaded our marriage, as well.
Additional Advice on Illness Invasion
And then here’s some good advice that Erin Prater gives concerning the illness of a spouse:
“Realize your doubts are normal. It’s ordinary to wonder if you’re ‘really cut out for marriage to a person with [insert condition].’ It’s ordinary for someone in your position to be tempted to leave—temporarily or permanently. There is no sin in being tempted. But there is sin in breaking your vows. Let God know you need His strength to fulfill your vows to your spouse.” (From the Focus on the Family article, “Reality Sets In”)
For more insight on this issue, Focus on the Family put together a whole series of articles. You can gain insight by reading:
The above advice goes along with something else Helena advices. It’s something we tell couples continually. This is true whether you’re dealing with an illness or not:
“Remind yourself that divorce is not an option. When you close the door to certain options such as divorce, your mind won’t ‘go there’ when stress or difficulties arise. Close the door to divorce and keep it shut.” (From the Marriagetrac.com article, “When Chronic Illness Enters Your Marriage”)
Praying for You
It is our prayer that there is “such a oneness between you in your marriage that when one of you weeps, the other will taste the salt.”
It is also our prayer that when illness attacks your home, you will pull together. Don’t allow it to rip you apart as a marital team. We pray that when each of you is tested through the invasion of sickness, you will grab onto the strength that God can give you. That way you are better able to do what needs to be done for your marriage partner.
“Sometimes ‘sickness’ can be the most ‘healthy’ place to be if God is present. That is because He can change us there.” (Myrna Pugh)
When someone in the family gets seriously ill, he/she might be the one infected, but the entire family is affected. This applies whether it’s disease or chronic pain that has changed your loved one.
Additionally, here is some good advice that Dr Phil gives:
“Don’t let the disease become your identity. You can manage an illness, or it can manage you. Are you becoming a full-time patient instead of a human being with a disease to manage? Investigate every avenue of rehabilitation and create the highest quality of life. Don’t let the limitations of a disease become as handy as the pocket on your shirt. Do 100 percent of what you can do.”
That’s advice that is difficult to do, especially when the illness or disease is debilitating. It’s also true when illness is consuming so much of your time as you try to manage it the best way you can. But it’s important. Don’t allow this illness to erase who you are and all that God can still do through you. And don’t give this illness more power than you should.
Here are a few more tips Dr Phil McGraw gives on this matter:
• Communicate If you don’t talk about your feelings or how a disease is affecting the relationship, problems will only grow and eat away at you. Talk through the fear. Don’t keep a stiff upper lip.
• Differentiate Direct your frustration at the disease, not at the victim. If the circumstances are making you feel angry and resentful, you may have a legitimate point. But if those feelings drive your behavior, your point will be lost. Yelling at someone or being overly critical doesn’t help him become his better self.
• Accept your feelings Know that you are not a crummy person if you don’t feel sympathetic and compassionate at all times toward the person with a chronic illness. The toll of the illness goes beyond the infected person.
• Redefine the relationship Disease may force a family to adapt into different roles (the caretaker of the family becoming the one who needs to be taken care of, etc.), so you may need to come to a new understanding of what is “normal.”
• Set realistic guidelines Outline what can be expected from family members as well as from the person who is ill. If you’re sick, you can’t be expected to do some of the things you used to do. If you’ve offered to help, you can’t be expected to abandon your children and job because of it. Outlining reasonable expectations will prevent feelings of resentment on both sides.
• Confront your own emotions If you are ill-equipped to deal with your feelings, you may grow cold or withdrawn. Hiding your feelings can only cover up the raw pain for so long — and can also prevent you from being close to your loved one. Remember, monsters live in the dark.
• Don’t force children to deal with adult issues Young kids shouldn’t be expected to go from being a child to the caretaker of a seriously ill parent. If a child has taken on the role of caretaker and now can’t go back to being a kid again, you need to him/her them re-learn how to have fun, be silly and play again.
The following are wise words and thoughts tailored just for you:
“Someone has said that none of us can carry a lifetimes’ burden. But we can each carry this hour’s worth. As we’re told in the Bible, ‘Your strength will equal your days.‘ (Deuteronomy 33:25)
O Lord, You alone are my strength. Pick me up when I collapse. Comfort me in pain. Carry me in weakness. Infuse me with Your power to go on. Thank You for staying close. Amen.” (Jana Carman)
For those of you who are caring for your spouse who is ill, these words of hope are also for you:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
May it be so Lord, may it be so.
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.
If you have additional tips you can share to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
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Filed under: Mental and Physical Health