Why does my husband stay when my chronic illness makes me such a burden?

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I found this piece particularly difficult to write as it stirs up some very raw emotions and fears which, although I try my best to ignore, are a constant source of anxiety in my life.

Everyone living with a chronic illness or mental illness, that impacts greatly on their life, and who has a partner, has asked themselves these questions multiple times;

Why does my partner stay with me? What do they gain from our relationship? What can I offer them as a ‘broken’ partner? Why do they put up with the daily struggles when they are not their own? Why don’t they opt for an easier life and walk away? How can they still love me after everything they have had to endure?

I have asked myself and my husband these questions many times. I am lucky enough to have a supportive and loving partner but surely even he has his limits?

When my health is at its worst, I’m not an easy person to be around, in fact I’m not even a nice person to be around. Pain makes me grumpy and short tempered. Anxiety makes very hard work, I constantly need reassuring about even the smallest details. Exhaustion means I am unable to do the fun things couples do together, that we used to do together. My hypersensitivity means I shun away from conversations and physical interactions because they are just too painful. Depression means I isolate myself and push him away. We, as a couple, have had to make a lot of sacrifices and adaptations to our life because of MY illnesses.

I am riddled with guilt for everything I put my husband through, for the life he has lost and for the burden I am to him. He married an able bodied, healthy woman, he didn’t sign up for this. I feel so guilty for all of this, but I do what I can within the limitations my ill health places on me. We all feel this guilt. Jennifer Brea touches on it in her film Unrest, which documents her struggles with ME/CFS. In the following conversation she has with her husband Omar, she states;

Jennifer; “I feel like I’m robbing you [of your life] and I’m hurting you.. I think that’s just really hard…”

Omar’s response; “All I can tell you, love, is I am so grateful that you are in my life. You know if I can talk to you? If I can like hold you tight…. I’m good.”

So, why does my husband stay? His response has always been the same; “Because I love you.

He has continued to love me even when I hated myself. He’s continued to love me even when I pushed him away. He has continued to love me even when I’ve snapped at him for no reason. He’s continued to love me even when I shut myself away and gave up.

He continues to love me even when I can’t bear his touch because it’s too painful. He continues to love me even when I’m an anxious mess, and when that anxiety manifests itself as anger. He continues to love me even when I’m too exhausted to even speak. He continues to love me even though I live the majority of my life from my bed.

Why? Because even through all these challenges we still have fun, we still manage to laugh, we still manage to find ways to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy life… Or maybe it’s because he loves me enough to endure these challenges with me, my struggles are his struggles. Maybe he loves me enough to adapt his life around my ill health. Maybe he loves me enough not to want to see me suffer alone. His presence makes my life worth living.

I know I’m extremely lucky to have such a patient and supportive husband, and there have been many times when I haven’t deserved him. So, this is dedicated to my awesome husband, I love you, thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for reassuring me when my anxiety takes over. Thank you for giving me confidence when I doubt myself. Thank you for giving me space when I’m too exhausted to speak. Thank you for not judging me when I’m depressed and wallow in self pity. Thank you for making me laugh with your outrageous humour when everything gets too much to bear. Thank you for your gentle touch when I’m in pain. Thank you for being my nurse, my carer, my therapist, my best friend and my soulmate.

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  1. I can completely relate to this! My husband reassures me that he would go through any challenge with me because the opposite (life apart) would be unimaginable. He is gentle, supportive and loving even though I see the stress that caring for me puts on him. It isn’t easy to have a chronic illness relationship but with a commitment to work though it together, to communicate better and learn and grow from mistakes, it is possible. Here’s to men who show that care-giving is a manly thing to do! I find it ridiculous when people assume that only women take that role and we can’t expect men to do it.

  2. What a lovely post and dedication to your husband. I am so grateful for mine as well. And I feel guilty for what my disease has done to him too. It’s hard but feeling guilty makes it worse. So best to appreciate what we have and give our all in every way we can when we can.

  3. Wow, tearing up over this because everything you’ve said is so true. I’ve changed so much in the 8 years my partner and I have been together, and I don’t feel any of it is for the better. I feel very lucky to have him, life would be unbearable without him.

  4. Thank you for sharing this as I often wonder myself why I am so blessed to have the amazing husband and father to my boys. He makes hard days a little easier. It’s my 2 boys 11 & 17 that I feel the most guilt. When my 11 year old wants to cuddle and watch a movie but just him barely brushing up against my arms feels like a hammer to a bruise and how he instantly blames himself no matter how much I try to explain to him it’s okay it wasn’t you or your fault. Or the days I snap at them because I’m so mad at the pain. I just want to be a normal mom and take care of my husband and kids and give lots of hugs and snuggle. I am grateful my husband does a great job filling the voids I’m sure that are there.

    1. I’m glad you have the support of an amazing husband too. I don’t have kids myself, but I can imagine the guilt must be hard. It’s so tough living with chronic illness but we need to remember it’s not our fault, and we are doing the best we can. Take care

  5. This is very beautifully written and it speaks to me in regard to my relationship with my man of 6 years. I am not at all the woman he met and dated. She is gone only to be replaced with one who is now broken most of the time. I have often wondered why he stays. I think you were able to put in writing what so many of us feel. Bravo!

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