When chronic illness invades your marriage

When a chronic illness affects your family, 'in sickness and in health' takes on a whole new meaning.

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  • Today I will walk into the ICU at our local hospital and visit my hero, my beloved husband. For the third day in a row, I will hold his hand, offer a smile and maybe give a shoulder massage - something to comfort him during this health scare.

  • We are both still reeling from the diagnosis (really? how can this be happening?) and fearful of walking the road of chronic illness.

  • But, as I stare into his beautiful blue eyes today, I'm wanting to tell him that I'm here for him. Always.

  • And as we pray quietly by his hospital bed (as we've done each day before I must leave him again), I'll pray that he understands that when I said "in sickness and in health" thirteen years ago I really meant it.

  • With trembling knees, I'll do my heartfelt best to tell him that we'll walk this unknown road of long term illness together.

  • Long term illness has disrupted our world

  • I have a t-shirt that reads "My Husband, My Hero." I wear it on days that he or I need a visual reminder that, yes, he is and always will be my champion, my best friend, my sweet confidante ... the one God handpicked just for me out of every other person in the world.

  • I am wearing it today.

  • And like the other days before, the rhythmic pattern of the heart monitor, and the multitude of tubes and wires protruding from his arms and chest will remind me again that, yes, our little world has been greatly disrupted, and that things are far from normal.

  • An uninvited guest named life-long illness has pushed its way into the door of our lives, boldly taken up residence and rudely demanded that we adjust accordingly.

  • But today's routine will be a little different. Today he is being released from the hospital. Today we will be handed the keys to our new life.

  • Our new life with chronic illness

  • Three short days ago we were given the news: along with miraculously being spared from some truly awful conditions (including coma and death), my husband was diagnosed with Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), and with Type 1 (Juvenile) Diabetes.

  • It was a shocking diagnosis, to say the least, especially since my husband is in fairly good health and we eat a (mainly) plant-based diet.

  • So, along with nursing him out of his critical state, the hospital staff has spent the last few days introducing us to what will now be our new normal:

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    • Carb counts for everything that goes in his mouth.

    • A diet that restricts (or severely limits) certain foods.

    • Insulin injections four times a day.

    • Blood glucose level monitoring six times a day.

    • A slew of (regularly scheduled) appointments with various specialists.

    • Classes on lifestyle management.

    • A special medical identification bracelet to wear.

    • The wonderfully tasty world of glucose tabs and gels.

    • New guidelines for air travel.

    • Health signs to watch for-daily.

  • And the list goes on and on.

  • Today the at-home-care process will begin. And thus, so will a new chapter in our marriage.

  • In sickness and in health

  • My Facebook post yesterday was simple: "...for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish; 'till death do us part."

  • My heart still chokes just reading those words, knowing how heartfelt they were.

  • I didn't expound on the "whys" I'd posted the traditional marriage vows. Those who were closest to us and knew our situation understood the reasons behind the post, and simply posted comments like "praying for you guys."

  • This whole experience has highlighted for me two distinct ways couples approach their marriage relationship.

  • One way is to think of marriage as being glorified housemates: you share your thoughts and feelings together (and decide together how to run the home) but there still is a sense of independence... a feeling of "this is mine, and that is yours" so that when hard times come, that separation between "yours" and "mine" becomes more distinct. It's as if the two of you say you will work together as a team through it, but in reality, you approach it as if it's still "your issue" or "my issue."

  • In contrast, another way to approach marriage is to fully embrace the other's issues, truly considering that their "issues" are truly your issues to tackle. For example, there is no such thing as "his medical condition"; it becomes "both of your medical condition" because you are handling it together.

  • To me this is far more natural and God's true intention for marriage. What good is marriage, unless you have truly agreed to embrace each other's scars and ugliness as if they were your own, and have determined to work together as one mind to fully help one another?

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  • Two are better than one (especially during difficult times)

  • Speaking from a practical sense, Ecclesiastes 4:9 describes this by saying, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor." Yes, we are more successful when we tackle a difficult road like chronic illness together.

  • A few verses later, Ecc. 4:12 states, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." This verse too makes me grateful for the marriage bond because in those moments when we are defeated and downtrodden, God designed it so that our spouse can steady his or her shoulders and defend both of us against attack.

  • I also love this verse because it reminds me that we don't have to be that "strong cord" on our own in our marriages - that the foundation of our love (and of our lives!) is not each other, but something much, much bigger and completely trustworthy and unchanging. That wonderful "third cord" is our loving Heavenly Father, and He will be the one ultimately empowering us to stay strong through the storm.

  • Two of us "strands"(even if we are holding on tightly to each other) might snap in the harsh winds of life. But as a strand of three - as the tiny threads wrapped together around God's huge, thick cord of heavy rope - we are not easily broken. Hallelujah!

  • Do our actions show this? Do we really embrace - fully, totally and completely embrace - our spouse (and God) in this way?

  • How to help a spouse living with chronic illness

  • One of my biggest struggles through this process has been how to help him. It is so difficult to see your beloved suffering and in both emotional and physical pain, and to feel like there's little you can do for them.

  • So I have begun brainstorming practical ways that I can be involved in this burden for my sweet husband. Thankfully, I am learning that there is a lot I can do.

  • First and foremost, everything our family does needs to encourage a healthy lifestyle for him. My goal is to create a home environment that encourages him in this lifestyle and to not make things harder for him. So at least for a long while, my food choices and activity levels will be very similar to his. It's the absolute least I can do to embrace "my" part of "our" disease.

  • Physically, I can help him with making appointments, picking up prescriptions and gathering information from other health professionals. I can help him with his food choices and have foods available to him in our home that will help his body heal. I can also research new recipes, talk to others who live with this condition, and give him the nutritional information about the food he eats.

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  • Emotionally, I can give him a smile and a hug when he needs it. I can do my best to maintain a simple yet pleasant home environment that refuels and encourages him on those rough days. I can just be there for him if he wants to talk or process things.

  • Spiritually, I can daily (or hourly, if need be) lift him up to our Father and intercede on his behalf. I can pray that his wife (yep, that's me!) will not be selfish or quick to complain. I can savor the blessings in this situation (and in our life in general) and then be an example of this to our children.

  • Wow ... deep exhale. There really is so much that I can do for him. I can truly help him carry this terribly heavy burden. Just the thought of that makes my heart sing.

  • As I type this, I'm dedicating my own sinful heart to this new part of the calling I've been given as his wife.

  • Lord, give me the strength to do these things. Please show me even more ways I can carry my part of the burden. And may my actions all be used to point others to You.

  • Editor's note: This article was originally published on Your Vibrant Family. It has been republished here with permission.

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Alicia Michelle, author, speaker and blogger at YourVibrantFamily.com, is passionate about helping women discover their beautifully imperfect journey through parenting, marriage, homeschooling, faith and homemaking. She’s also a happily married homeschool mom of four curious and amazing kids who keep her on her toes! Alicia is the author of the books "Plan to Be Flexible" and the "Back to School Survival Manual." She also teaches the online video courses “7 Days to a Less Angry Mom,” and “bloom: A Journey to Joy (and Sanity) for Homeschool Moms.”

Website: http://www.YourVibrantFamily.com

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