3 Ways Chronic Illness Affects Marriage


When you get married, you vow to stay with your partner in both sickness and in health. But nobody ever expects to marry or become someone who is always “in sickness”. Chronic illness is difficult and many couples would argue that chronic illness is even ruining their marriage.

Here are three of the biggest ways we’ve seen chronic illness affect marriage:

1. The transition period with chronic illness is a difficult adjustment.married couple with two hands wearing wedding bands

In the case of chronic Lyme, you might not get a positive test result or get any answers from your doctor. For those who do get answers, you don’t get enough of them. All you have is the initial shock of diagnosis and a time period where reality sets in: life will never be the same—and not in a good way.

Whether you’ve been officially diagnosed with a chronic illness or you’re dealing with chronic pain and symptoms, the initial shift of not having the energy to do what you used to be able to is hard to get used to. Because of this loss of energy, there can be a shift in lifestyle, how your household responsibilities are distributed, a difference in mood and mindset—the list goes on and on.

In Kyle and Leah’s marriage, Leah has taken on the role of advocating for her husband and learning as much as she possibly can about her husband’s disease. Even though Leah isn’t the one with chronic illness, it has affected her life, too. 

When you develop a chronic illness, you often aren’t yourself anymore and that can cause real grief. Sure, chronic illness is hard, but letting go of your old self and all the things you wanted to do in the future? That is devastating. A chronic illness warrior’s partner has to let go of that person and has to adjust to this new life, too. Letting go of these expectations can cause a huge strain on the marriage.

2. The financial burden of chronic illness is incomprehensible.

You can only imagine how many doctors, how many medications, and how many supplements somebody with chronic illness goes through—especially if that chronic illness is hard to diagnose. (Chronic illnesses such as Lyme, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia (just to name a few), have very similar symptoms.) All of these doctor’s visits add up, and most insurance companies do not recognize chronic Lyme or cover certain treatments. This means chronic illness patients are paying out of pocket for expensive testing, procedures, and treatments.

Often times, those with chronic illness are not able to continue working. If they do continue working, they might not have the energy to work as much as they used to. However, many do not have the option to leave their jobs because of their financial circumstances, which only adds to existing exhaustion and stress.

In the event that chronic illness has taken away the ability to work, the spouse now has the stress of being the sole breadwinner for their family. Plus, if said spouse has to work more, that means they get to spend less time with their family.

3. There is so much misunderstanding around chronic illness.

Let’s just agree that chronic illness is hard for everyone involved. Obviously we are a little biased and think it is the most difficult for the person living with the chronic illness. However, we know that it must be difficult for the spouse to watch their husband or wife struggle and to feel helpless. They can’t understand, no matter how much they want to.

It is easy to get frustrated with feeling sick and take it out on your partner. There are days when the symptoms hit harder than other days, and that can lead to questioning how symptoms can seemingly come and go or why your good and bad days always seem to line up with the days where things have been planned.

The exhaustion, the mood swings, the miscommunication, the frustration of not having answers…it all adds up. Small things like not being able to cuddle because there is too much pain or not being able to do fun things together… It can drive everyone crazy and it requires a huge amount of patience when there is chronic illness in marriage.

So, what does chronic illness mean for my marriage?bride and groom's feet face each other as they take on chronic illness

We don’t want to leave you under the assumption that chronic illness is going to ruin your marriage because that simply isn’t true. There are many who don’t just survive the tough times, but who find a way to allow the struggle of chronic illness to strengthen their commitment to one another. They realize that their partner isn’t a villian, but the victim of one of life’s cruel and unpredictable challenges: being human.

This video shows real stories of how love is the closest thing we’ve got to conquering chronic Lyme and is applicable to any couple dealing with chronic illness in marriage.

Ultimately, each couple is different but here are three things to try if your marriage is suffering because of chronic illness.

  1. Try to be a little bit more patient with one another. The next time you feel frustrated with your partner, take a deep breath and count to ten before speaking. 
  2. Find new things you can do to spend time with each other. Maybe you used to go out on dates and don’t have the energy you used to. Try planning a special date, even if that means staying in and watching a movie at home.
  3. Focus on the good things each spouse does and contributes to the marriage. Often times, we focus on the negative. Try leaving notes for each other to quietly thank each other for the small things you both do daily.

Our hope and prayer is that chronic illness can make you and your marriage stronger. Let us know what advice you would give to couples dealing with chronic illness!


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