5 Ways My Marriage is Better Because of Chronic Illness

This month marks seventeen years for my husband and me. Needless to say, we’ve been through an awful lot together in those years–including many ups and downs with my health. I recently wrote wrote a piece for The Mighty that highlights some of the ways our marriage is better because of my illness, and I want to share it in celebration of our anniversary.

It’s often easy to come up with all the negative effects of chronic illness and disability (and with good reason), but similar to my post about why I’m glad my kids are living with this, I think my marriage is richer as a result of illness being part of our lives.

5 Ways My Marriage Is Better Because of Chronic Illness

April Barcalow

May 17, 2022

1. We have grown deeper as a couple.

I thought we knew each other well, and in many ways we did. But after years of sitting at hospital bedsides, navigating new symptoms, riding the rollercoaster of chasing down diagnoses, adapting to limitations and changes, and carrying each other through the pain and loss and fear, we really know each other now. We’ve had difficult conversations about topics we never would have broached. We’ve whispered about our deepest fears in waiting rooms, or lying together in the dark at night. We’ve held each other when it was all too much, and laughed together in spite of it. Chronic illness has taken us far deeper than we’d gone before, and we’ve discovered more and more of each other with each new layer.

2. We have learned how to care for one another.

We’ve navigated a lot together. In addition to the regular stresses of marriage, raising children, and our careers, we’ve had all the ups and downs of my chronic illness journey. And we have had to learn how to help each other through it. We’ve taken turns holding each other as we’ve cried, and we’ve made each other laugh in the midst of the hard times. We have each made space for the other person to rest. He’s picked up the brunt of the work on the home front, and I’ve learned what it means to support and encourage him from my post on the couch. We’ve adapted to my physical limitations to find ways to connect with one another. In so many ways, we are just better at taking care of each other than we ever were before.

3. We’ve learned to laugh in the midst of hard times.

I sometimes rely on a wheelchair because of my weakness and fatigue. When I am out in the chair, I often receive comments from strangers about how brilliant my smile is. It always catches me off guard, because in some ways, wheelchair days should be my hardest. But we’ve learned to turn it around. My husband often pops wheelies when he is pushing me, or leans in to make jokes. I find that most of my memories in a wheelchair are memories of laughter. In the same way, we’ve learned to laugh at my physical limitations: the ridiculous ways I flub my words with brain fog, the way that I feel like an elderly woman with my cane, the way I make him do all the heavy lifting around the house. We poke holes in the darkest sides of chronic illness and laugh together, and it carries us both through the challenges and brings us closer.

4. We’ve found new interests and hobbies together.

I loved to ride my bike before my illness. When my symptoms made riding impossible, I was devastated. But my husband bought me a picture of a tandem bike and reminded me that there is still a way back to the things we love most. A few years into my illness, we bought our own tandem bike. It’s become a favorite shared pastime. We joke that I do as much work as Kermit the Frog does on his bike (in fact, we call my frequent lack of pedaling “Kermit the Frogging”), but I find it exhilarating to be riding a bike at all again. We ride trails and roadways together, pack picnics in the bike basket, and explore new places. We’ve found a new shared interest that we can enjoy together in spite of my limitations.

5. We know our commitment to each other is real.

On that same tandem bike picture my husband gave me were the words, “Where You Go, I’ll Go.” We vowed on our wedding day to love each other “in sickness and in health,” but I often worried that my husband felt duped or disappointed that the “in sickness” was such a prominent part of our lives together. Instead, he took the opportunity to reaffirm that we are in this together, no matter where it goes. We know what it’s like when the worst we could have imagined happens, and we’re still here. I know without a doubt he’s not going anywhere, and he knows I’m not going either. We both know we are committed to this no matter what.

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