6 Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage When Lyme Disease Is the Third Wheel
Did you know that 75 percent of marriages affected by chronic illness end in divorce? This is not shocking, but still very sad because it highlights the utter devastation that a serious illness like Lyme disease can bring to a family.
Prior to contracting late-stage Lyme disease and the confections Bartonella and Babesia, I was a social butterfly. My husband and I shared an outgoing lifestyle and enjoyed numerous date nights and gatherings with our friends each month, including cheering on our favorite sports teams. We have a team of wonderful babysitters on our bench, so we never felt guilty to leave our son at home with these responsible, caring, and fun-loving individuals.
After a year and a half of pain and suffering, and finally being diagnosed with Lyme disease, I started a very rigorous, lengthy treatment that changed everything about the life I once knew. I quit my job, gave up alcohol and many foods, I could no longer workout, and doctor appointments and physical therapy filled up my weekly schedule. With that said, our outgoing lifestyle was pulled out from underneath us, without much notice. Most of our family and closest friends understood the changes and what we were up against, and we still saw them, but we did lose touch with some friends because they continued to live their fast-paced, outgoing lives, and we just couldn’t go out and host large gatherings like we used to.
When I completely gave up alcohol, one thing I learned real quick when is that when you are 100 percent sober, you realize just how big of a role alcohol plays in many people’s every day lives and entertainment. Before starting treatment, I was able to still go out with friends and enjoy a glass of wine once in awhile, but that all changed due to the harsh side effects of long-term antibiotics, and the toxins related to the die off of stealth microbes in my body called a herx reaction.
Then there is the financial requirements of treatment which can attempt to threaten even the strongest of marriages. Lyme disease treatments are long, expensive, and often not covered by insurance. Before even getting the proper diagnosis, my family had to spend up near $10,000 in medical expenses that year. Lyme disease requires expenses beyond what insurance companies will cover, including dozens of monthly herbs and supplements, out of state travel to doctors, and long-term complimentary treatments such as acupuncture, infrared sauna, chiropractic or physical therapy. The kicker is that most people with Lyme disease are unable to hold a full-time job due to the demands of treatment, so this can further add to the financial strain.
It is so crucial to remember to support your relationship when dealing with lyme disease or any chronic illness. If you take the necessary steps, you can protect your marriage and keep your bond strong no matter what curveballs life may throw at you.
Some steps you can take to keep your marriage strong when Lyme disease is the third wheel:
1. Schedule date nights.
You may not be able to hit the town or party like you used to, but that’s OK. Even if you don’t feel up for going out to dinner or a party, you can still schedule a “date night” at home on the couch with healthy snacks and a movie. The key is to actually schedule this time together, and to stick to it. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of life hold you back from sharing and enjoying this crucial and necessary time with your spouse. If you used to enjoy going to watch your favorite sports teams together, set up an evening to watch your team uninterrupted with your spouse at home or go out to a local sports bar instead. You can also go to a yoga class or get couples massages as these activities might also be beneficial for healing. One thing that can also help is to try to not talk about your illness during this time, as hard as that may be. Believe me, when you become very sick and enter treatment, it becomes your life and full-time job to get better, so it’s only natural to be thinking and talking about it every single day, but if you can take a break to discuss other more joyful things, it can serve as a great stress relief.
2. Communication is key.
When I became sick and started my treatment plan for Lyme disease, I found that communication lines became crossed sometimes. It can be difficult to understand how someone feels OK one day, and then struggle to get out of bed the next. This is why it’s so important to keep open lines of communication with you spouse. If you aren’t feeling well, let your spouse know so they can offer some compassion or extra help that day. Additionally, as a caregiver, if you are feeling upset or overwhelmed it’s equally as important for you to be able to express your feelings and be heard and acknowledged. Practice sharing your feelings to each other with complete honestly and openness. This will allow for better communication and less misunderstandings, and ultimately less fights in the long run. Remember that you are both on the same team.
3. Choose love.
Anger and resentment are often present with Lyme disease, and rightfully so. If you are lucky enough to have been diagnosed, it probably took you months if not years to reach this point, so you are already beyond frustrated by the time you start treatment. Additionally, disappointment about not being able to live life the way you used to, and dealing with all the changes and financial burden that chronic illness brings can cause negative feelings to harbor below the surface. Instead of being angry with your spouse, always choose love. If in any situation you choose to see your partner through the eyes of love it will allow you to treat each other with more respect and compassion and remember why you are with that person in the first place. Next time you are fighting with your spouse because of a bad day, stop and think about treating them with love. How would love respond in that situation?
Neither of you asked to deal with Lyme disease, but it was the cards you were dealt and if you make love a priority, no illness will ever be able to break your bond.
4. Ask for help.
It’s OK to ask for help when you need it. In fact, surrendering to the help of others can take a huge burden off your relationship or marriage. Many times family and friends don’t even understand how difficult Lyme disease treatment is for the individual and their loved ones. In fact, some doctors have even deemed it similar to chemotherapy due to the debilitating side effects from strong medications and herx reactions. Often times, families with Lyme disease are pushed to their absolute limit when it comes to keeping the house afloat during treatment. So go ahead and hire a babysitter or ask a family member to watch the kids so you can rest, recruit a friend to help run errands, or whatever assistance would ease your daily grind. Let go of guilt and be OK with others lending a hand. Many people don’t even know help is needed or how they can help unless you ask them. Don’t be afraid to put it out there.
5. Intimacy is important.
It is well-known that lack of contact in marriages can cause huge problems. As human beings, we need touch to feel acknowledged and loved. Touch is important for intimacy, and not just in the bedroom.
Lyme disease can make your body hurt in ways you didn’t even think possible, and this is coming from someone who lived with a fractured wrist for two years before getting it fixed, who lived with the disability of interstitial cystitis, and went through childbirth. On bad days, the last thing you want is someone touching you, because it could quite possibly flare-up additional symptoms, or be too tender and painful to even endure.
If you are unable to have sex as often as you used to, it is imperative to find some way to be intimate with your partner. Whether this is through a massage, snuggling on the couch to watch a movie, or even just the simple act of hugging and kissing each day. The evident truth is that the best marriages engage in a lot of touching, but sex is only one form of intimacy. Figure out what works for you and be sure to keep clear lines of communication regarding intimacy.
6. Seek professional guidance if needed.
If all else fails, do not be afraid to seek the help of a professional marriage counselor. Sometimes having that outside opinion can open wonderful doors. At the end of the day, Lyme disease is hard on everyone. It’s hard on the person physically dealing with it, but its also hard on the caregiver to watch their loved one struggle day in and day out for months or years on end. Couples counseling may be helpful to improve intimacy and facilitate better communication and understanding among couples dealing with chronic illness. Marriage counseling helps couples of all types recognize and resolve conflicts, and improve their relationship. Through marriage counseling, you can also make thoughtful decisions about rebuilding and strengthening your marriage during one of the most difficult times of your life.
It takes true warriors and a rock solid relationship to go up against Lyme disease, and remember that you are in this fight together! Even though Lyme may have changed your life, don’t allow it to run your life. You are in control, and at any given moment you have the power to choose love and put your marriage first.
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