Your marriage vows included the phrase, In sickness and in health!’ Still, most people think that cancer, kidney problems, and other life threatening medical conditions only happen to other people. Chances are you know someone; a neighbor, a friend, a colleague or a family member who seemed young and healthy one day, only to find out the next that they will be fighting for their life. This fight can change relationships forever. Promising however is the immense amount of research that indicates that couples who face health problems together, have a 90% better chance of overcoming them than those people that fight the good fight for their lives alone. Still, it is important as a spouse of someone who is ill to understand your role in your spouse’s wellness.
Finding out that someone you love is sick can cause a whirlwind of emotions at first. Topping the list of course is worry and concern. You worry that they might die, you worry that they won’t get better, and you worry that you will be left raising your children alone. In fact, the laundry list of worries are often kept silent and still in the heart saved for those moments when you are stopped at a red light. And then the tears come with wild abandon. The person who is sick worries too. While you might feel that concealing all of your concern from your ill spouse is helping them get well, you are wrong. In fact, the unspoken words between couples are often the ones that need to be said. In this case, these are the emotions that you have in common and when you share them; the two of you will feel more like a unit and definitely stronger!
Depending on the illness, there are also a host of other issues that arise. Medical costs can literally bankrupt a family and while few people would put a price tag on the life of someone they love, this too can cause stress. The best thing that you can do is handle creditors and hospitals together and make payment plans as best you can. When your insurance runs out and you still need medical care, you might be surprised what the two of you do next. The point is that you do it together and focus on what is important. You can always make more money but you cannot replace a life. Facing the illness together, in all facets is essential. Even if your spouse is too ill to fully realize the extent of the financial toll on the family you should be honest with them and as positive as possible. Remember, there are worse things that can happen.
Eventually, it becomes normal for the well spouse to resent the sick spouse. Yes, it isn’t their fault, it isn’t something that they could help but taking care of them and constantly talking about, hearing about, thinking about and living with the illness, can definitely take the zest out of your living. The spouse too may resent their well counterpart for quite simply, being well. It is easy to throw accusations at one another explaining that one could not possibly understand the way the other is feeling. And you know what? Both of you are right. Facing an illness together doesn’t mean that you will have an instant understanding of how the other feels. It is impossible to know completely. But talking about it, joining support groups, and connecting with other families and couples dealing with similar circumstances can help give you a like-minded community where you feel you belong. Outsiders, although well meaning, will always be sympathetic and full of pity for what you are going through.
Another aspect of facing an illness together is helping the children cope with what is going on. They may not understand words like metastasize or transplant but they do understand that mom and dad are frazzled and changed. You should discuss things with the children together. Most commonly, the well parent will talk to the kids in private and ask them to be extra nice to their sick parent or try to emphasize that they have to keep him or her as comfortable as possible. This is confusing for kids. While you don’t have to cover the prognosis, you should include them on what is going on. Leaving a child with the impression that as long as they act good daddy will be okay places too much responsibility on them. Also, allow children to talk about the ‘being sick’ like they want to. don’t shush them or make everything hush hush which gives them the impression that there is something to be ashamed of. Make sure that teachers and other people your children’s lives know what is going on so they can join in on supporting the children’s emotions.
Lastly, make a plan. No this is not how you expected things to turn out for you and your marriage. But as responsible adults, parents perhaps you have to prepare for the worst. You don’t have to accept that it is going to happen or that it even will, but the two of you MUST be able to talk about what happens next. Make sure that legal paperwork is filled out, that both spouses are aware of financial resources etc. and prepare your life by simplifying it a bit. If the person who is sick is overwhelmed with worry about what will happen to his or her family, it can slow their healing process considerably. Realize that with all disease, comes an emotional factor that can either favor or impede wellness. don’t be naive nor polite in believing that you don’t have to or don’t want to talk about these matters. Facing an illness together means that you absolutely do!
Sometimes, facing an illness together can make the relationship stronger. Suddenly, you have a new and better understanding of just how fickle life is. Other times it may drive the two of you apart for scattered reasons. Sometimes, the sick spouse may simply be trying to help you let go because they feel certain that they have become a weight in your life. The bottom line is that you have to look to love and beyond it, so that the best chance at wellness is available.