When your spouse is diagnosed with a chronic illness, you begin to realize that your life, your spouse’s life and your marriage will never again be the same.

If you’re like most couples, you breezed through the “in sickness and in health” clause of your marriage vows without much thought. You were probably too busy gazing into your spouse’s eyes, beaming from the thought of marrying your soul mate and eagerly anticipating your wedding night.

Had you given it some thought, you might have pictured “in sickness and in health” as serving your wife chicken noodle soup when she has the flu or running to the store at 10 p.m. for another box of Kleenex and Sudafed for your husband’s “monster” cold. Aside from the token mention of, “Yes, honey, I’d still love you and take care of you if you were in a car accident,” calamity was probably the furthest thing from your mind.

More often than not, the reality of “sickness” materializes out of nowhere. When your spouse is diagnosed with a chronic illness, you begin to realize that your life, your spouse’s life and your marriage will never again be the same. It’s easy to let thoughts such as, “Will this affect his lifespan?” and “Will we still be able to have kids?” torment you.

Below are eight tips for dealing with a diagnosis as a couple.

  1. Accept offers of help. If you’re involved with a church or a close-knit group of friends, you’ll likely receive more assistance than you know what to do with. Casserole dinners and offers of free babysitting won’t ameliorate your condition or mend your broken spirit, but they will allow you to focus on healing and coping as a couple.
  2. Find a support group. Contact your doctor’s office or church for support-group referrals. If possible, find a group where spouses and family members are welcome. If a support group doesn’t exist in your area, consider starting one. Or, find an online forum where you can receive and give encouragement.
  3. Find a good counselor. If the prospect of seeing a psychiatrist daunts you, don’t. Instead, find a certified, Biblically based counselor both you and your spouse can speak with. Your pastor may be a certified counselor; if not, he should be able to point you to one. You can also visit Focus on the Family’s Counseling Services and Referrals page for a local referral.
  4. Continue to make intimacy a priority. Physical intimacy is one of the greatest tangible bonds between a married couple. Besides fulfilling physical cravings, sex builds relational and spiritual intimacy between a husband and wife, allowing them to release emotions. If sex is still possible, continue to make love regularly. If it isn’t, seek to fulfill each other’s needs in other creative ways.
  5. Reach outside yourself. It’s possible for you and your spouse to spiritually and emotionally “drown” in hopelessness if you constantly focus on your situation. Reach out to others in need – individuals with a similar medical condition, shut-ins who could use a warm meal or widows who’d appreciate a listening ear. Helping others brings true joy – a rare commodity at times like these.
  6. Realize it’s OK to question God. God understands if you’re angry at the doctors, angry at Him and angry at the world in general. Don’t let Satan trick you into thinking anger is a sin. It’s not, though sinful behavior includes acting in anger towards others or turning your back on God. Present Him with your questions and uncertainties. Wrestle through this time with Him, and expect additionally clarity as the end result.
  7. Reflect. Life is a journey, and followers of Christ are promised it won’t be an easy one. You may not have answers to why you were diagnosed with your condition – not now, not in this life. Take comfort in knowing you will have these answers someday. In the mean time, God will reveal to you His purpose for your life – and your life with this condition. Journal your thoughts, feelings and reflections. Share them with your spouse. Open yourselves individually and corporately to what God has in store for your life together.
  8. Refuse to be owned by your condition – or hopelessness. Life, no matter how painful or confusing, is precious and worth living. Do your best to make lemonade out of lemons, and rest at His feet when you’re wrung-out.