Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Marriage + Chronic Illness = Guilty As Charged

MarriageImage by jcoterhals via Flickr
I have been married for over 12 years now. It goes without saying that you can't be married for this long without having some ups and downs, getting into some fights, feeling both love and hate, offering lots of apologies and making lots of compromises. It's a journey, a process, a dance, a work-in-progress...

But what happens when you throw chronic illness and disability into the mix?

Well, this is the experiment my hubs and I have been living for the past 6 years...

In many ways, it has probably been easier on me to adjust and change. My hubs can only watch from the sidelines, upset about the impact my illnesses are having on me and our life together and frustrated because he can't
"fix it". I know he has really struggled to get to a place where he accepts that his wife isn't getting better for the foreseeable future.

During this time of upheaval, changing roles and loss, all the normal things that happen in a marriage continued to happen, but with new added layers of subtext courtesy of my chronic illnesses.

For example, not working is my husband's idea of nirvana. When he thinks about me being home all day, he thinks about how much he would enjoy being able to stay home too. His work can be stressful and demanding and when he is tired and wanting to escape his reality gets a bit resentful that I get to stay home and he doesn't.

Then he comes home, tired from a long day at work. His wife is home all day, so he is thinking somewhere in his sub-conscience mind that since I stay at home, I should have the time and energy to take care of things around the house. This of course contrasts with the reality of me asking him for his help because my moderate to severe chronic pain and chronic fatigue make it very difficult for me to get anything done.

Along the way, I have been accused of many shortcomings, failings and deficiencies by my husband. It hasn't been pleasant and it's resulted in some pretty big arguments. After the proverbial good hard look, I know the root of these problems is my chronic illnesses.

But you know what? Beyond the excuses, legitimate as they may be, I concede that I am guilty as charged.

You see, if I was a "normal, healthy person" I absolutely would be doing lots and lots of things around the house, all day, every day, if I was not working full-time. Even when I was working full-time, I wasn't someone who sat around all weekend. I willingly spent some of my free time cleaning the house, working in the yard and making our house into a home.

As for the fights, I can see now that they have served a purpose. Change is never easy, especially when it is forced upon you by circumstances beyond your control. My hubs is healthy and I pray he remains that way always. He is in unfamiliar territory dealing with his wife's illnesses and I know that he is struggling to adapt. Somehow fighting has allowed us to get to the heart of the matter and move beyond things like denial, anger, false hopes and disappointment.

I can deal with the disagreements because, in all the important ways, he still freely gives me all the things that attracted me to him in the first place: his love, devotion, loyalty and friendship. Honestly, getting him to help with chores around the house was a sticky subject before I got sick. Chronic illness made this topic a more important one to tackle and our arguments about it, in the short run, have been more heated.

Reviewing the past six years, I can see that my hubs is changing. He likes the slower pace our life together has taken on, which fits better with his natural pace. He can now see how much I really do try to do as much as I can do and even comments when he sees me trying to do too much. He offers to help me more. In the past year, I started cooking more at home so we could get our food budget under better control. Maybe it's all that good home cooking that has made him better at pitching in and helping with chores around the house.

Of course, I always try and reinforce his good deeds with a "please" and "thank you."

In the past six years, I have felt guilty that chronic illness makes it difficult for me to live up to my husband's expectations of me. Thankfully, I can see his expectations changing to reflect my changed circumstances. Together, we are learning to resolve our differences and start moving forward again.

What can I say? I truly feel we are living this quote:

More marriages might survive
if the partners realized that sometimes
the better comes after the worse.

~Doug Larson

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Oh What the Fog said...

Wow. This is really hitting home for me today. I am feeling guilty about all the things I want to do and the realization that I just have to leave some things undone and get over it. Great post! Patti

Tammy said...

I've been married for 20 years and my husband and I have been doing this dance for three years now. It's only these past few months that he's started admitting he's angry and he's now learning to express his anger at the diseases, not at me. It helped him to know that I was angry too.

This is hard, hard work for us. It helps to know that others are in a similar place.

1artsychick said...

When my illness got to the point that I felt like it would be better for my husband if he didn't have me to deal with, we decided to go into counseling. It has helped a lot.
We don't have those little arguments. My husband gets so proud of me when I can do anything around the house. He sometimes gets mad at me when he thinks I'm doing too much.
He works at home, thankfully, so he's available if I have a bad spell. (I get vertigo just out of the blue, that causes me to get violently ill. and I'm dizzy most of the time.)
I still think he'd be better off without me sometimes, but I realize now that it's not my decision. He loves me so much, and it would hurt him more to be without me.
We used to fight so much, because I would beat myself up so much about everything.
We still have some whoppers, but usually it's when I let the guilt build to unsurmountable levels, (I need to ask for help, long before that happens.) Then I feel even worse for a while.
But we have found our way.

I can not say how much a safe place for us to talk about things has helped us. When I first started going to therapy, it was just me, dealing with my illness, but then I said, I think Stuart needs to be in here....that's when we really started making progress. he can really talk to me now. It's wonderful. Our marriage is stronger than ever.

good luck.

Amanda said...

I enjoyed reading this. I can relate even though I"m not married yet. So many people expect me to do things just because I don't work (I'm in school) etc., and really they don't get that going to school part time is just about ALL I can do. And some semesters, I've had to take off and then they really think I can conquer the world with all the free time. Right. If they only knew. Thanks for your post. I love your blog. :)