Marriage After Chronic Illness


Marriages go through many events. There are fights, family and friend deaths, job loss, babies, and among other things. When we say our vows, there’s a part that says “in sickness and through health”. We say that, hoping for the second part, never the first. Marriage after chronic illness is not easy. 

I’ve been married for 15 years and had a mini-stroke in 2013, sometime during year 7 of marriage. That stroke left me with sometimes debilitating migraines. They are absolutely no fun and I take medications daily to help avoid them. 

Migraines are considered a chronic illness if they interfere with daily functioning and that’s a definite for me. It’s hard to be a mom with migraines. Sometimes, I miss things with the kids. I can’t handle noise, light, or food when I have a migraine. I’m wiped out.

Marriage after chronic illness is not easy. 

It’s harder to be a wife. We’ve had to cancel or modify date nights due to either having a migraine or coming out of one. I’ve sat at home during family events while he went with the kids.

The phrase “Not tonight, I have a headache” is a reality. 

This leads to a lot of guilt. I don’t like missing out on things with my husband and kids. I don’t like being in bed while they’re having fun. Even with medications and other helpful things, it still gets pretty hard. Sometimes, my husband and/or our kids get frustrated or upset, but they have learned to adjust. Unfortunately, our oldest son also has migraines. 

I have received nerve blocks, shots in my head (yes, it’s as painful as it sounds), to help manage the migraines. They helped and I take preventive medications everyday. 

If this wasn’t enough fun, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in late 2017. I’m 37, which is considered somewhat young for an adult diagnosis, but I have a family history of RA and my older sister has lupus. The odds were pretty much stacked against me. 

The medications are helping, but there are days that I can’t do a lot besides get out of bed, get the kids to and from school and make dinner. I do what I can and thankfully, my husband gets it. He’s used to me going at full speed, but understands the need for me to slow down. 

What happens when illness strikes? 

**It’s hard to say exactly what everyone should do, because every situation is different. There’s a lot of chronic illnesses out there and everyone copes differently. These are ideas to guide you and your partner.**

couple holding hands

Learn as much about the condition as you can together. You can’t force your partner to get involved but it definitely helps. You feel less alone when there’s someone to help you physically and emotionally. Neither my husband or I are medical geniuses, but we’ve learned a lot about migraines and are currently learning about RA. 

Learning more about your condition can give you an idea on what to expect. Medications are also important to learn about- not just what they do, but the side effects. Some medications interact with others or with certain foods. Some side effects are pretty rough and can change the dynamic between a couple. 

Go to appointments together. This isn’t always possible. Matthew has long work days, so it’s unusual that he can come to appointments. He calls or texts afterwards to ask what happened. That works for us. This way, he feels better knowing what’s going on and I know I can share everything with him. 

Let your partner help. I have a hard time with this one; many people do. I’ve snapped at my husband many times to let me do things even though I should be resting and after my stroke, this was a huge stumbling block. I am very used to being at full speed and doing many things without help, but sometimes either I feel like my head is being stomped on by an elephant or I feel like the Tin Man (think “Wizard of Oz”) and I have to basically force myself to sit. It’s a hard one. If your partner offers to do the dishes, cook, or anything else to help ease your workload, take the help. You’re not being lazy. You’re taking care of yourself. They love you and want to help. If you are having issues with a partner that doesn’t want to help, that is entirely different. That requires extensive talking between the two of you to get to the bottom of what is going on. If needed, please seek outside help. 

Check in with each other. It’s good to do this without a chronic illness being involved, but once (or maybe more, depending on the situation) a week, check in with each other and see how you’re feeling. Do you need more time alone? Is there something you need more or less of? Support? Is your partner feeling overwhelmed? Try to problem solve together. 

Try to limit stress. One of my biggest migraine triggers is stress. Arguments are a big stressor. Stress can contribute to many physical issues, so the less stressed you are, the better off both of you will be. 

Enjoy the good times. There are good times to still be had! Focus on what you can do to have fun and enjoy each other and your family, if that applies. We go out as a family as much as possible. 

Learn to accept the changes. After being diagnosed with a chronic illness, there are some emotional and sometimes physical changes. It can be hard to make the adjustment.  If you stick together and face it with understanding and a bit of humor, your relationship may become a bit stronger. 

Marriage is a challenge and a half when both people are healthy. When one or both aren’t, it can make things difficult. Love each other and make adjustments. Being a partner can go a long way.

It’s not easy, but marriage after chronic illness doesn’t have to be difficult.


  1. So how do you deal with a daughter who doesn’t comprehend that you are I’ll and all she is concern with that you are not responding like you once did before your illness? She is 37 and married with a toddler and one on the way. I was well before the toddler was born. now I am not able to help like I did with the first child. She doesn’t understand that I’m getting older and can’t function like I did years ago.


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