By Janine Ridings
When a person suffers from chronic illness, he/she is not the only one affected by the health condition. In essence, the whole family becomes a patient. The effects of living with a chronic illness are far reaching, and thus, the spouse needs to learn coping strategies in order to live the most fruitful life possible in the midst of the difficulties presented by the chronic illness of a family member. Listed below are some tips to help spouses of the chronically ill deal more effectively with the challenges they will encounter along the way.
1. Accept the fact that having a chronically ill spouse is a mutual problem in the marriage that needs to be dealt with accordingly. Face the challenges presented by the illness as a team, figuring out how you as a couple will cope. Too often couples go off in their own little “corners,” trying to cope the best they can on their own. A better approach is to problem solve together.
2. Don’t make your partner feel guilty for being ill. Most of the time it is not the person’s fault they became ill. They certainly didn’t ask to be ill, and I’m sure they would become well in a minute if they could. Try to develop a heart of compassion for your partner. It’s easy to become resentful for the trials chronic illness brings into family life, but don’t let bitterness creep into your life or your marriage. It can result in much damage and destruction to the relationship.
3. View your partner as a special creation and gift from God. Don’t let the illness cloud your view of them. Amidst the pressures of living with a chronically ill person, it is easy to begin to see them as a nuisance or a burden. Refuse to give in to this temptation. Remember how much your partner has added to your life through the years, and have hope for better times in years to come.
4. Be flexible. Because chronically ill people often have good days and bad days, it is often difficult for their spouse to switch gears from one day to the next. When they see their partner up and running, capable, and on top of things one day, and then the next day they are bedridden, this can be very confusing and frustrating. Give your partner lots of grace, and if you are confused, ask them what kind of day they are having. This can help the spouse know what type of expectations to have for their partner that day.
5. Focus on the good that has come from facing the challenge of having a chronically ill partner. Many people who live through difficulties develop stronger character because of it. Be thankful for the character growth that has or will probably come through illness. It is your choice whether or not to let the trial of chronic illness make you “bitter” or “better” people.
6. When you attempt to go places with your chronically ill partner, have Plan A, B, and possibly C ready to implement. When living with a chronic illness, life is unpredictable, so if you have planned to go somewhere, have a back up plan to lessen the disappointment and frustration in case the first plan doesn’t work out for some reason.
7. It is important for the spouse of a chronically ill person to have their own hobbies and interests apart from their partner. It is too easy for burnout to occur if a person doesn’t allow themselves time away from the responsibility of living with or caring for a chronically ill person. If your partner needs constant care, try and find a friend or relative to watch them so that you can get away for some rest and relaxation. If they don’t need constant care, find a person who can be on call for them in case a problem or crisis arises during your absence. Do something special for yourself whether it’s for a couple hours or for a weekend getaway.
8. View your partner as separate from their illness. If you are angry at the challenges your partner’s illness presents in your life, don’t take your anger out on them. It is normal to experience emotions such as anger, depression, sadness, frustration and fear when living with a chronically ill person. Allow yourselves permission to grieve the losses in your lives separately and together. Grieving together as a couple is important and can be a very healing thing. Sitting down together and having a good cry can be cathartic. See a pastor or Christian mental health professional if you need help working through your grief.
9. If your partner is struggling with health challenges, don’t try to “fix” them. Try instead to become a good listener, offering comfort and compassion. Helpful and encouraging comments include statements such as, “I’m sorry you are struggling. You have been through a lot. We will make it through this together.” This type of emotional support can really help lift the spirits of the chronically ill person.
10. Seek to live a balanced life. Don’t become too busy in your life in an attempt to run from the pain. If you do this, your partner may feel neglected, depressed and hurt. Be sure and spend special time with your partner, even if it’s just watching a video together or talking. Enjoy the simple things in life together.
11. Accept your situation as a part of God’s sovereign plan for your lives together as a couple. Continue to believe in God’s goodness in the midst of your challenges. Develop a thankful heart for all the blessings you still have in your lives. Be honest with God about your pain, and seek comfort through His Word and prayer.
12. See it as a joy and a privilege to serve your partner. A selfish life is a miserable life. Find satisfaction in giving.
13. Try to keep your attitude positive and optimistic as often as possible. This is important for both people in the relationship. We all know how important a good attitude is no matter what we are going through in our lives.
14. Give up the “happily ever after” notion that permeates our society. Face the reality that life is not perfect and never will be. Remember that marriage is for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Stay true to your marriage vows and God will bless you for it.
15. Don’t see divorce as a way to escape the pain of your situation. Divorce will usually result in a different set of problems than the ones you already have. If you remarry someone else, you will most likely be exchanging one set of challenges for another. I have met very few people who told me they were glad they got divorced. Most often after divorce, people realize that it did not solve their problems as they had hoped. A better approach is to work through challenges together as a couple, learning and growing through them.
16. Above all else, never lose your hope! If you feel you are at the end of your rope and are just hanging on, hang on! Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, things will most likely start to get better. Persevere through the challenges and continue to have hope for the future. People with chronic illness often have ups and downs in their health, so remain hopeful that life will be better in the future. Never, never, never give up!