What To Do When Your Spouse is Diagnosed With A Chronic Illness (Part 1)

When we get married and say our vows, we commonly include the phrase “in sickness and in health.” And when we’re young and vibrant, it’s often difficult to grasp what this actually means.

For some married couples, one spouse might eventually be diagnosed with a serious chronic condition. When either partner receives this kind of diagnosis, it can rattle the entire landscape of the life you’ve built since the beginning of your marriage.

In many ways, illness can alter the way your day-to-day life looks–not only for the spouse who received the diagnosis, but for your whole family. A serious diagnosis can shake the foundation you thought you had, and it creates a new normal you’ll need to prepare to navigate together.

When we plan and dream of what life’s going to be like after marriage, we don’t include the possibility of life-altering or debilitating illness. But for many couples, that is a reality. If it happens in your marriage, you’ll need to be able to effectively support your spouse throughout their illness, whether it’s a terminal diagnosis or a health condition that can be maintained over the long term.

This post is the first in a two-part series about what to do if your spouse is ever diagnosed with a chronic illness. We hope that these posts will help you begin your journey together as you embark on one of the most challenging times in your life.

1. Pause to understand your spouse’s condition and how it might be affecting them.

The first thing to do when your spouse receives a serious diagnosis is to take some time to understand what this illness means for your spouse. Consider not only what kind of impact the initial diagnosis has had on them, but potential effects as the future unfolds.

How are they feeling? Did the diagnosis come as a shock, or as a relief after months or years of pursuing answers? What does your spouse need from you at this moment? How can you provide that to them?

Chances are, their needs are going to shift from the early stages of their diagnosis into the future. Think of your spouse’s needs as being on a spectrum, particularly now. That means that in the beginning, they may need more support from you as they learn to maintain the condition they’re dealing with. Their needs might even change from day to day, and you need to be prepared to support them.

2. Consider how your spouse might need to feel loved during this time.

In light of this diagnosis, how does your spouse need to feel loved? If you’re feeling unsure of what to do for them, ask. Be open to his or her answers, and remember that they may not know what to tell you right away. Think of what helps your spouse feel comforted and safe, and try to bring them more of that, too.

3. Acknowledge that both of you will grieve.

A life-altering diagnosis brings a measure of grief with it. The grieving process looks different for each individual, so be understanding and patient with one another. Listen to how your spouse is feeling, and take the time to acknowledge your own emotions.

It’s important to give yourself time to process the impact of this news and the grief that comes along with it. Don’t try to suppress your feelings or press forward with business as usual, as though nothing has changed. Be honest with yourself about how this has impacted you. If needed, seek counseling from a licensed therapist who can help you to process your emotions in a healthy way.

Difficult diagnoses deal a crushing blow.

A difficult or devastating diagnosis is one of many blows life can deal us along the way. Leslie’s book, The First Drop of Rain, is a reflection of the struggles we all face from time to time, when God seems far away. If you’re looking for a bit of additional comfort during this time, both for yourself and for your spouse, you can pick up a copy here.

In our next post, we’ll continue our discussion of how to support your spouse in light of a difficult diagnosis.

Have you or your spouse ever been diagnosed with a chronic illness? What did you do to support one another? How did it change life as you’d known it? Feel free to share your stories in the comments section.


  • Focusing on the possibilities, not the limitations, has helped us to keep pressing on — Just the first 3 years of our diagnosis journey could have taken us out, if we had focused on the negatives of my wife’s health struggles. Peace, Patience, Kindness goes a long way in helping to see past the pieces of life that we’ve lost. Love covers a multitude of complications that could otherwise be disappointments. My wife has found strength in journaling, and in connecting with ladies through our home church.

  • Judy Lindall says:

    My husband was diagnosed over close to fifteen years ago. He called me after his yearly physical to let me know he was done and coming back home. He ended the conversation by saying,”Oh by the way, the Dr said I have Parkinson’s.” I was stunned! I sat and cried, and wiped my tears before he got home. But it took me 3 days to talk about it with him.
    He was told it may never get any worse and it really hasn’t. But many things he can’t do because of other health issues and so I find myself a caregiver.
    We have been married for 63 years now and the vows of “in sickness and in health “ are very real.
    We are marriage mentors for over twenty years and can share with those “newbie’s” why the vows are more than words we say to each other. We’re not guaranteed anything in this life and it’s so important to have a relationship with the Lord. He’s the glue that holds us together. To God Be the Glory ♥️

    • Jeri says:

      thank you for your transparency. Married just 30 years now, I am suspecting a challenging diagnosis for my husband based on changes over the past 2 years. I just realized the thought, prior to any confirmation, has brought on some stages of grieving for me. Now I realize it may be doing the same within him. I pray we will persevere, with Him leading and supporting us

  • Chaplain Gary Driessen Ph.D says:

    Chaplain Gary says: It’s a very good article. Married for 51 years we both have been very active and it’s in the last year our lives have ben upside down, my wife had a stroke last year in 2021 and we start off the year 2022 with her hip problems. Her doctor said it’s too complicated for him to do the surgery and he is now referring us to another doctor. And I know that it’s the Lord who carries us through this time. After working in the Nursing Home for ten years and working with Hospice for five years as a Chaplain the Lord has given me compassion for those you are suffering and family members as well who struggling with the illness of their love ones. Trusting in the Lord.

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