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.