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Toni Braxton Reveals That Being Unable to Work Due to Lupus Led to Her Divorce

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For many with chronic illness, the inability to work (either full-time or at all) is a difficult and frustrating reality. Despite common misconceptions that not working must be “nice,” or like having an extended “vacation,” the lack of a job can have significant consequences on a person’s sense of identity, finances and relationships.

Singer Toni Braxton recently shed some light on this reality while she was a guest on Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk.” Braxton, who was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in 2010, said her inability to work and contribute financially because of her illness was the reason behind her 2013 divorce from Keri Lewis. The two were married 12 years and have two sons together.

She explained:

I felt shallow because my ex-husband and I broke up for money issues. I found out I had lupus at the time. I couldn’t make money because I had lupus. I had to cancel the show. That was my personal contribution to the marriage failing, because who wants to take care of a person who’s sick all the time? He never said that, but I felt it.

Braxton explained that even though she and Lewis technically parted due to financial issues, and her inability to work and make money, she feels that the root cause of the split was her lupus.

“If I’m gonna be completely honest, money was just the decoration on the tree. The tree itself was, I felt, because I was sick he left. It made me insecure,” she revealed. “I always felt like if I didn’t get sick, and I could’ve continued to work, we wouldn’t have had that deficit. It wouldn’t have shown its face, I should say, and we would probably have still been together.”

The tension that illness can create in a relationship is not unique to Braxton and Lewis. In her essay When My Health Prevents Me From Contributing Financially, Mighty contributor Blythe Bouchard describes what it feels like to not be able to work:

I’ve always been an over-achiever, and I can’t stand not being productive in some way. Losing the ability to contribute to a household is really frustrating to me, and it saddens me to think about getting married soon and not being able to help out financially. I don’t want to frustrate my future husband or make him feel like he has to do it all himself, and I really don’t want to feel like I have a caretaker. I want it to be a partnership, and I don’t like the idea of not being able to help.

Although illness contributed to Braxton and Lewis’ divorce, it was also illness that served as the “turning point” in Braxton developing a romantic relationship with her now-fiancé, rapper Bryan Williams, also known as “Birdman.”

The “Unbreak My Heart” singer told Smith that while she ill but out on the road touring, Birdman would follow behind her on the tour bus and check in with her every night to make sure she was OK. “I felt someone was there with me,” Braxton said.

Navigating a relationship when one person has a life-impacting chronic illness can certainly create some extra challenges, but it is not impossible. If you also live with a chronic illness that prevents you from contributing financially, know you are still just as valuable and deserving of love and respect.

For anyone who may be struggling with feelings of guilt, or trying to find a sense of balance and equality in their relationship, we asked those in our Mighty chronic illness community who have been there themselves to share their best relationship advice.

Here’s what they told us:

  1. Find meaning in things that aren’t work. Appreciate whoever is working in your family and if you can help them save money in any way, why not? Don’t blame yourself because it just makes you feel crummier and exacerbates problems. Accept what is and do your best. Take care of yourself.” – Jessica H.
  2. I can’t contribute to our household by earning money, so I focus on saving us money. I pick through grocery store circulars and carefully plan meals, which has cut our food bill in half. If we need to make a purchase, I do research to find the best product for our money. For his part, my husband never makes me feel guilty for no longer working. We each appreciate what the other contributes.” – Shannon S.
  3. Keep talking with each other about finances. When I had to stop working it took me nearly six years to be approved for SSI. Just this month I received my first payment. But for those years my husband was always insistent that his income was ‘our’ money. I was very grateful for this, that he never made me to feel as though I was a financial burden.” – Vicki L.G.
  4. I went from a wedding cake business owner, doing a thriving business for years, to only being able to barely care for our home due to pain and symptoms from RA and MS. While my husband doesn’t fully understand me or my diseases, he tries to understand my limitations. He even has taken on side jobs to make up holes in our budget. When I am able, I take an occasional order from home also to help keep money coming into our home. I also try to remind him how much I appreciate him and all his hard work to keep our household going all by himself through email, texts at work and greeting cards slipped in his truck. I never want him to feel unappreciated.” – KellyAnn C.
  5. Go see a chronic pain counselor together!!! It really helps to open your eyes to what one another is going through. The person with the illness and the caregiver. It really helped my marriage.” – Tiffany P.
  6. Keep dialog open! Always discuss how you are feeling and how your financial provider is feeling about the matter, about finances and how you are feeling mentally and physically on both fronts.” – Bailey S.
  7. Adults tend to measure their worth through their work. Work doesn’t give you worth. Loving your children, being a spouse to your spouse, appreciating what you have and embracing your abilities rather than your inabilities give you worth.” – Jessie L.S.
  8. Sometimes I take what my partner does for me for granted. One thing I do is say thank you even for the little things. Because I know I can’t do my life without my partner helping me out.” – Acadia M.M.
  9. Find value in others that have nothing to do with finances. Do your kids contribute financially? No. Does that make them less valuable to you? No. Give yourself the same compassion and value. I know it’s hard – I struggle all the time with feeling bad for not being able to contribute. But find your worth elsewhere. It’s there.” – Jacqueline B.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/The Heart Truth

Originally published: November 29, 2018
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