8 Couples Taking on Chronic Illness in the Most Beautiful Ways
It’s true that chronic illness can bring new challenges to relationships. But it’s also true that illness can strengthen them, bring partners closer together and teach us what it really means to support and love another person — in sickness and in health.
In honor of the millions of couples who take on chronic illness together every day, we rounded up eight that have made headlines for speaking openly about the challenges of illness and how they support each other through it all. Perhaps they’ll start a conversation if you need support, or if your partner has a chronic illness and you’re not sure how to help, offer you a new way to be supportive.
We also know examples like this happen every single day in households that don’t get media attention — we want to validate and celebrate you, too. So we asked our Mighty community to share their advice for people who are supporting a partner with chronic illness. You can read their answers below and add your own in the comments at the bottom.
Here’s to supporting each other.
1. Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan
Ever the comedian, Jim Gaffigan recently posted a sweet and funny video of himself helping his wife, Jeannie, with a tube-feeding as she recovers from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. “This is kind of like our own cooking show,” Gaffigan quips. Later, joking about their neighbor helping insert the syringe into Jeannie’s PEG tube, he says, “I know that if I was in the same situation, Jeannie would be OK with me getting ‘pegged.'” When you’re tackling illness, a little humor can go a long way.
2. Chrissy Teigen and John Legend
You have to be present. You have to be compassionate. You have to understand what the reasons for them feeling what they’re feeling are. I think once you know the reasons, I think you can be more helpful in identifying what they’re going through.
3. Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan
After his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 1991, Michael J. Fox confronted what many people with chronic illnesses face: the question of whether or not their spouse will feel “burdened” by their illness. In an interview with The Guardian, Fox said the public image of his wife Tracy Pollan as a “long-suffering wife” was “bullshit.”
This is my situation and she deals with it, and I never feel like, “I’m sorry you have to put up with this” – it’s nothing like that. When I told her about the Parkinson’s I said to her, “Are you in for this?” and she said, “I’m in for it.” And that was it. It was still a struggle but that was a really great moment.
4. Brandon and Machi Marshall
Brandon Marshall, a wide receiver for the New York Giants, was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2011 after years of struggling with the symptoms — which made it difficult for him to reach out to his wife, Machi. “If she hadn’t held me accountable — if she hadn’t loved me, hadn’t shown compassion during my weakest moments, I would have probably lost everything,” he wrote in an essay in The Players’ Tribune. Together, the couple created Project 375, a foundation dedicated to breaking the stigma of mental illness and encouraging others to speak out and seek help.
5. Rob and Marisol Thomas
Singer Rob Thomas’ wife, Marisol, first began experiencing symptoms of autoimmune disease in 2003 and was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease. Since then, the couple has worked to raise awareness of Lyme disease; Rob performed at the Global Lyme Alliance’s annual gala in 2016 and his songs “The Great Unknown” and “Her Diamonds” were inspired by Marisol’s experience.
6. Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Cutter Dykstra
Jamie-Lynn Sigler went public with her multiple sclerosis diagnosis at the same time she revealed her wedding to Cutter Dykstra. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight at the Race to Erase MS Gala, Sigler said her husband “holds her up” physically and emotionally. “He sort of taught me that, regardless of MS, who I really am… He has really helped me realized that [MS] doesn’t [define who you really are],” she said.
7. Robin Roberts and Amber Laign
“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts underwent breast cancer in 2007 and a blood and bone marrow disorder called myelosysplastic syndrome in 2012, and in 2013 she revealed she hadn’t been going through it alone: she had the support of her long-term girlfriend, Amber Laign. “I just love the fact that people now know that this very special person was there [helping me] as I was recognizing others that were there,” Roberts told People. “I love her that much to let people know that.”
8. Viral Imgur User With Endometriosis and Her Husband
Romance isn’t always about candy and flowers. In a viral post on Imgur, user Flamesonthesideofmyface showed just how powerful some non-traditionally romantic actions can be. She described how her endometriosis kept her awake, crying in pain at 3 a.m. one night. The next day, her husband returned home from work and went to work taking care of her. “I have never, in my life, felt more cherished or protected,” she wrote.
He immediately made me a snack with cheese and crackers and then went to town cleaning our tub. I mean *cleaning*. He scrubbed every jet, took off the filter, and made it sparkle and shine. He filled the tub with muscle relieving bath goodness he’d just bought, set the jets running, and brought me my favorite wine and chocolate after I settled in (along with “just shout out any time you want more wine.”)
As I sit here soaking, he’s now cleaning the kitchen and said he’d prepare dinner after. He got lotion for a massage, a hot pad for my stomach, and said we can watch trashy TV or play Breath of the Wild tonight while I relax in my pajamas.
When couples are forced to confront “in sickness and in health,” it’s not always easy for people to know exactly how to make their partner feel supported in their illness. So we asked members of our Mighty community what their advice would be for how to support someone who has a chronic illness. Here’s what they recommended:
1. “Tell me I’m beautiful at my worst because that’s when I need to hear it, not when I’m dressed up and having a good pain-free day. Love and encouragement on a bad day can make a world of difference to someone in pain.”
2. “Don’t wait for your partner to ask for help because it is often hard for individuals with chronic illness to admit they need help. Having to ask for help, especially help with tasks that you used to be able to do yourself, can be hard. It makes you feel like you’ve become dependent on someone. Be proactive in looking for ways to help your partner so they don’t have to ask for it.”
3. “Help me not feel guilty when I ruin plans by canceling or having to leave. Also, help me not to feel like we are only spending a night in because of my illness when I fear you actually want to go out instead.”
4. “Be there. Be present for every single heartbreak and every tiny crack of hope. Be emotionally available and fight with and for us. But don’t get this concept of support misunderstood with fixing the situation, curing the illness. Don’t pressure yourself to fix the situation — unfortunately like so many things in life, chronic illness is out of your control.”
5. “Please have some compassion. Not sympathy… compassion. I know it gets frustrating sometimes because your partner in life’s life has changed drastically. You have to remember that life doesn’t stay the same and you can make this work! Change together. Communicate. Ask each other what you need to better your relationship.”
6. “It’s the little things that make it better for me. Like when I wake up and breakfast is made. Or pitching in with the housework with out being asked.”
7. “You don’t need to be superman. You’re allowed to feel your feelings too of frustration and hopelessness at times. You can get tired and overwhelmed. But all I need is to know you’re there for me and are willing to go through anything by my side.”
8. “Please tell us you’re proud of us. Be proud of us for getting out of bed, for not sleeping all day, for making a healthy meal, for getting out for the day. No matter how big or small our feats can be we want someone to be proud of us.”
9. “Take care of yourself just as much as possible, and don’t forget to do that at the expense of your ill spouse. You are just as important. Also, don’t forget how deeply you are loved. Because you are. Always.”
If you have a chronic illness, what is the best way a loved one can support you? Let us know in the comments below.