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Why My Husband and I Can 'Get Through' Everything Except Chronic Illness

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Sharilynn and her husband

I have been married 26 years. I have been ill for 20 of them. At first, it seems like the marriage vows will guide the process and spouses will pick up the slack, become extra caring and hug you a lot. “You go rest… You need your rest…” Words that are needed, said and believed flow unchecked. Because together we can get through anything!

But then resentment starts creeping in. “You go rest” becomes “Didn’t you rest enough yesterday?” or “I’ve had to do the dishes all week! Aren’t you better yet?” Our spouses can see we are not better, but they don’t know how to deal with it. They cannot fathom a never-ending illness even after vowing “in sickness or in health.”

I am 20 years into my illness now. I am way past the honeymoon period and definitely beyond the “we can get through anything” phase of my marriage. You see, together we can get through everything. But what we can’t get through is day after day of illness, pain and side effects. No one said we had to. And yet, we assume we should.

When we take the marriage vows “in sickness and in health” or “for better or worse,” people don’t actually expect they will get the “sickness” or the “worse.” And if they do, they don’t think about the long-term issues because we are taught we can get through anything – right?

But to “get through” something implies there is an ending. Like the six weeks we spent eating hot dogs and mac-n-cheese to save up for a mistake that would cost us $1,400 when taxes were due. We got through it. And now we don’t eat hot dogs or mac-n-cheese anymore.

But you can’t “get through” a chronic illness because there is no end. It’s always there. Hiding on good days, wreaking havoc on bad ones. But never truly going away. This would be like eating hot dogs and mac-n-cheese forever. No hamburgers, no BBQ chicken. Just hotdogs and mac-n-cheese “‘til death do us part.” Umm… no. Not gonna do it.

But here’s the trick: you don’t have to “get through.” Being chronically ill means there will be stress and bad days and lots of curveball issues to face. And we get through those. But being chronically ill also means we must rest. To do that, we must accept our illness for what it is: never-ending. And with that acceptance, we can learn to be content in our illness on days we just can’t fight. The days we won’t get through.

On these days, don’t worry about getting through the pain or lack of energy to do one final load of dishes or fold the last load of clothes. Today, just be. Go back to getting through tomorrow when you are fresh and hopefully in a better place with your disease. Pick up the fight and the “getting through anything, in sickness and in health” tomorrow. It will all still be there.

And for those of you who think that’s akin to quitting – it’s not. It’s like having a nice bit of steak and salad four weeks into your hot dog and mac-n-cheese diet so you can keep going until you save that money. It’s having a bite of chocolate as a pick-me-up when on you’re on a strict diet during competition season. Resting within your disease and just being for a day is the necessary treat or kindness you give your body so it can continue to fight and “get through” when it needs to.

If you don’t do little kindnesses for yourself, you will burn out: mentally, physically and health-wise. And your family will too. They need time to be with your disease. To be mad. To be sad. To accept what your life is like. To be able to set aside all of this weight to see the beauty that is still a part of your life. Because we said “for better” and “in health” and we deserve to appreciate those days when they come. That is how we continue and “get through” our lives.

Originally published: July 11, 2016
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