Questioning Why My Partner Stays With Me Since I'm Chronically Ill
I found this piece particularly difficult to write as it stirs up some very raw emotions and fears which, although I try my best to ignore, are a constant source of anxiety in my life.
Anyone who lives with a chronic illness or mental illness that greatly affects their life and who has a partner has probably asked themselves these questions multiple times:
Why does my partner stay with me? What do they gain from our relationship? What can I offer them as a “broken” partner? Why do they put up with the daily struggles when they are not their own? Why don’t they opt for an easier life and walk away? How can they still love me after everything they have had to endure?
I have asked myself and my husband these questions many times. I am lucky enough to have a supportive and loving partner but surely even he has his limits?
When my health is at its worst, I’m not an easy person to be around; in fact, I’m not even a nice person to be around. Pain makes me grumpy and short tempered. Anxiety makes very hard work, I constantly need reassuring about even the smallest details. Exhaustion means I am unable to do the fun things couples do together, that we used to do together. My hypersensitivity means I shun away from conversations and physical interactions because they are just too painful. Depression means I isolate myself and push him away. We, as a couple, have had to make a lot of sacrifices and adaptations to our life because of my illnesses.
I am riddled with guilt for everything I put my husband through, for the life he has lost and for the burden I am to him. He married an able-bodied, healthy woman – he didn’t sign up for this. I feel so guilty for all of this, but I do what I can within the limitations my ill health places on me. Many of us feel this guilt. Jennifer Brea touches on it in her film “Unrest,” which documents her struggles with ME/CFS. In the following conversation she has with her husband Omar, she states:
Jennifer: “I feel like I’m robbing you [of your life] and I’m hurting you… I think that’s just really hard…”
Omar’s response: “All I can tell you, love, is I am so grateful that you are in my life. You know if I can talk to you? If I can like hold you tight… I’m good.”
So, why does my husband stay? His response has always been the same: “Because I love you.”
He has continued to love me even when I hated myself. He’s continued to love me even when I pushed him away. He has continued to love me even when I’ve snapped at him for no reason. He’s continued to love me even when I shut myself away and give up.
He continues to love me even when I can’t bear his touch because it’s too painful. He continues to love me even when I’m an anxious mess, and when that anxiety manifests as anger. He continues to love me even when I’m too exhausted to speak. He continues to love me even though I live the majority of my life from my bed.
Why? Because even through all these challenges we still have fun, we still manage to laugh, we still manage to find ways to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy life… Or maybe it’s because he loves me enough to endure these challenges with me, my struggles are his struggles. Maybe he loves me enough to adapt his life around my ill health. Maybe he loves me enough not to want to see me suffer alone. His presence makes my life worth living.
I know I’m extremely lucky to have such a patient and supportive husband, and there have been many times when I haven’t deserved him. So, this is dedicated to my awesome husband: I love you, thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for reassuring me when my anxiety takes over. Thank you for giving me confidence when I doubt myself. Thank you for giving me space when I’m too exhausted to speak. Thank you for not judging me when I’m depressed and wallow in self-pity. Thank you for making me laugh with your outrageous humor when everything gets too much to bear. Thank you for your gentle touch when I’m in pain. Thank you for being my nurse, my carer, my therapist, my best friend and my soulmate.
Getty Image by VidorHsu