Coping With The Emotions That Come Up When Married To A Chronically Ill Spouse
Marriage is full of many ups and downs, and those moments can feel more intense when married to a chronically ill spouse. Here are some ways to cope with four common emotions that come up along the way.
Many people recall feeling terrified and worried when their spouse was diagnosed with a chronic illness. So many questions cross your mind including: Are they going to die? Is there anything I can do to help? What does this mean about our future?
Your worries and anxiety naturally come from a fear of the unknown and wanting to feel safe (for you and your spouse).
Try these tips to help relieve those worries:
- Ask your spouse’s medical doctor questions to get answers. This can be done by attending an appointment with your chronically ill spouse and writing questions down ahead of time. Getting information from your spouse’s doctor can prepare you for adjusting to life with a chronic illness with less worries.
- Take slow deep breaths. Deep breathing helps to increase your oxygen and blood flow, relax muscle tension and clear your mind. Sometimes you will need to literally slow down while other things seem to be moving quickly (out of your control). The breathing serves as a reset for your mind and body so that you are better able to handle the other things going on.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Anxiety leads to racing thoughts and feeling overwhelmed. Allow yourself time to focus on one thing at a time without the pressure to multitask, because it can help you reduce stress and get things accomplished more effectively, including supporting your spouse.
- Talk with your spouse about how they are feeling. Communication allows you confirm to what your spouse is experiencing rather than assuming and being wrong (which can happen with the best of intentions sometimes). Confirming how your spouse is feeling ensures you can help in ways they need, relieving stress for the both of you.
Resentment Towards Your Chronically Ill Spouse
Have there been times when your spouse’s needs came before your own? How many of your life plans changed as a result of your spouse’s health needs? When was the last time you had to cancel vacations, gatherings or other things of importance to you in an effort to support your chronically ill spouse? Do you have a hard time managing your social life?
There are many times that life changes have to be made when married to someone with a chronic illness. However, not everyone feels warm and fuzzy when these realities happen. If not careful, feelings of resentment can start to brew toward your spouse.
Here’s why resentment is so common when supporting a chronically ill spouse. Resentment comes from a place of blaming the other person for things happening in your life outside of your control. Are you showing any of these signs of resentment in your marriage with your chronically ill spouse?
If so, don’t beat yourself up. Now that you are aware of what is happening, you and your spouse can intentionally work together to grow closer with more understanding of how the situation is impacting your marriage.
Moving forward, here are some ways to cope with feelings of resentment.
- Remind yourself that your chronically ill spouse does not want to make these life changes either. You’re going through all of these changes together – not alone.
- Do what is within your control. Focusing on things out of your control often leads to more anger, resentment, helplessness, depression and worries. Give yourself an opportunity to prioritize your time and energy on things that are doable and bring meaning to your life. These activities bring on other feelings (i.e., joy, excitement, gratitude, happiness, relief and peace).
- Talk with your spouse about how you feel. Learning to talk about the chronic illness rather than letting your feelings build up allows both you and your spouse to meet your needs together.
Usually when people think about grief, the loss of a loved one is the main thing that comes to mind. While true, it’s important to know that the stages of grief are related to any loss, including many losses that can happen when married to a chronically ill spouse.
Here are some examples of losses that can happen when married to a chronically ill spouse: declining health, changes in you or your spouse’s mental health, poor life satisfaction, financial instability, hopelessness, unemployment, unaccomplished dreams/goals, strained or failed relationships and lack of independence (and that’s just to name a few).
If you are experiencing any of these life losses relating to your chronically ill spouse’s health, it is very likely that you are grieving.
One loss is hard enough to experience, but living through multiple losses over a span of time takes an emotional toll on you and your marriage. In fact, many marriages end in divorce due to the high stress that comes with grieving all of these losses with a chronic illness.
Understanding this, please know that you have every right to feel the way that you do. Many things about your life and your spouse are either changing now or will change later, and that can be scary.
Coping with Your Grief
- Make a list of things you still have – big and small. Briefly refocusing your thoughts at the beginning or end of your day can help boost your mood and allow you to notice the meaningful things that can otherwise be overlooked. The goal is to give your mind a gentle refresh as you work through your losses.
- Relive cherished experiences. Allow yourself to reflect on how things were before life changed by looking at photographs, talking through memories with others and allowing yourself to feel all of the positive emotions that happened at that time. Although it is hard not being able to do some of those things right now, those memories are still there for you to enjoy. You may feel other emotions (i.e., sadness) while doing this at times, but that is part of the grieving process, too.
- All yourself to feel the grief without judging yourself. The first stage of grief is shock/denial for a reason. You are either in disbelief that your spouse received the diagnosis or not acknowledging what’s happening. Ignoring what you feel only makes the process harder for you and your chronically ill spouse long-term. They need you to work towards accepting what is happening so that you can support them. Recognizing how you feel allows you to meet your needs.
- Speak with a chronic illness therapist or grief counselor. Your feelings can be a lot to handle by yourself, and there may be things you do not want to share immediately with your chronically ill spouse. Therapy can help you explore your grief and give you some next steps to move forward.
- Seek help from your community. Remember that you are not in this alone. Reach out to other supports within your community (i.e., family, friends, clergy) to help adjust to the chronic illness grief you’re experiencing. Supportive community helps take some of the load off of you, promotes safety and provides relief. There is no shame in asking for help.
Next Steps for Chronic Illness Support
I help individuals and families who are living with chronic illnesses and the emotional toll that it can bring. We can talk through your personal experiences of being married to a chronically ill spouse. Whether you’d rather participate alone, as a family or through group therapy, these services are available for you today.
Although you cannot control your spouse’s illness, you can still find ways to cope with your feelings and work through your grief – helping you to feel more prepared. I’d be happy to support you on your journey.
Schedule your first appointment with me by booking a free 15-minute consultation call.