Stepping into My Spouse’s Shoes (Guest Post)

This is a guest post from Helena Madsen of Chronic Marriage (www.chronicmarriage.com), a website dedicated to helping couples with chronic illness build extraordinary marriages. I have followed her postings for about a year now and found them to be inspiring and practical. The original posting was titled, Stepping into My Husband’s Shoes.

Photo by Alan Witikoski
Photo by Alan Witikoski

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to step into your spouse’s shoes and view your marriage from his or her perspective?

I’ve often wondered just how patient and understanding I’d be if I were the healthy spouse and my husband lived with muscular dystrophy.

This week I bravely decided to interview Jeff to hear his take on what it’s been like being married to me for the last ten years.  I also wanted to give him the opportunity to speak from the caregiver’s perspective on what works and what doesn’t work so well in a chronic marriage.

When we first met and I told you I had muscular dystrophy, what were your initial thoughts?

I was certainly familiar with the term muscular dystrophy but I didn’t understand what it meant to be honest.  Because I was attracted to you, I had a curiosity to find out more.  The disease definitely didn’t diminish my interest in you.  I remember thinking that whatever this disease is, I’m not afraid of it.  The way I’m going to tackle it is to find out more about it.

Once we married, what surprised you or caught you off guard about living with someone with chronic illness?

Well, early on in our marriage, your symptoms weren’t real obvious but after a couple of years, I started to see limitations e.g. you couldn’t run, climb stairs well, etc.  We had to start monitoring what we did physically.  As the disease has progressed, we’ve had to change the way we approach things.  In some ways, it’s actually been a blessing.  I’ve always been someone who rushes through life, always on the go, and moving on to the next thing quickly.  Muscular dystrophy has made me slow down in a good way.

One of the things I’ve learned about the disease is that we have to be very intentional about the choices we make.  For example, if we’re going out, I always call ahead to make sure the building is accessible and easy for you to get in and out of.  I don’t want our experiences to be diminished because of accessibility issues.  I’ve also signed up to the fact that we can’t be everything to everyone.   We can’t live the jet set life and that’s fine with me because I like the simplicity and groundedness that a slower pace brings to our lives.

What have been the biggest challenges for you?

The biggest challenge for me has been seeing your disease progress and trying to stay one step ahead of it.  For example, two years ago, I saw a clear need for you to start using a power wheelchair in order to increase your mobility.  You and I didn’t see eye to eye on that and it was a struggle for me.  I wasn’t necessarily factoring in your feelings or what kind of emotional decision it might have been for you at the time.  For me, it was more of an objective decision about what was best for you.  My attitude was if it will ensure your safety then why not do it?  I know that caused some friction between us.

In your opinion, what has helped us weather some of the storms and challenges?

I think communication has been the biggest thing.  I think we’re open and honest about what’s working and what’s not.  I think you set good boundaries with me.  I tend to be a very social person and I like to include you in a lot of activities.  When you laid down a boundary at first, I viewed it as a threat.  For example, if we were going out with friends and you didn’t want to go because you were tired or worried about accessibility issues, it was hard for me to understand.  But now that we’ve opened up the communication channels and are honest with each other, I realize it’s not a personal rejection.  I think giving each other permission to do things independently of each other is also helpful.

What advice would you give to a caretaker spouse like yourself?

First and foremost is to keep the lines of communication open.  For the caregiver, it’s just as important for you to express what you’re feeling.  Just because you’re the caregiver doesn’t mean you have to stuff your feelings deep down inside and not share them.  You shouldn’t view them as unimportant or that you’d be burdening your spouse.  You’re not being selfish if you share what’s bothering you.

The second thing is that as a caregiver, you’ve also got to take care of yourself.  If you’re not in a place where you’re caring for yourself physically, emotionally or spiritually, you’re not going to be very good at caring for your spouse in any capacity.  You can’t be there 24/7 and that doesn’t mean you’re bad, weak or a failure in any way.  You just need to be honest with your spouse about your physical and emotional capacity.

And maybe a third point would be to seek out a community of people to provide physical, emotional or spiritual support for you as the caregiver so that you can remain healthy.

What advice would you give to a chronically ill person regarding their healthy spouse?

The big one would be to extend empathy which is not always easy.  Empathy understandably ebbs and flows depending on the day and/or situation.  The tendency is to focus on you, the ill spouse because you’re the one struggling with pain and limitations.  You need to feel loved and cared for by your spouse as well as assured that you won’t be abandoned because of your illness.

At the same time, it’s important for you to put yourself in the caregiver’s shoes.  The caregiver’s life has been turned upside down too.  The world as they knew it has changed and it’s going to take weeks, months and most likely years to get a handle on it.  My advice would be to show a great deal of empathy for your spouse and try to understand how your illness is impacting them as well.  Affirm them, thank them and let them know you appreciate what they’re doing for you.  Tell them if a specific act of service makes you feel well loved and express your gratitude.  Lastly, give them permission to take care of themselves too.

Thank you Jeff for being open and transparent and for offering wisdom to other chronic couples like ourselves!

Are there questions you’d like to ask your spouse but are afraid to?  What might some of those questions be?  Please leave a comment!

For help in talking with your spouse about all kinds of health related issues, check out Helena’s new ebook “For Better or Worse: A Guide to Talking About Illness in Your Marriage”.

How Do You Apologize?

We are now in the church season of Lent, a forty day period before Easter set aside as a time of soul-searching and repentance. The forty days reflect Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for his own time of spiritual reflection. In the early church, Lent was a special time when new converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism on Easter.

Our pastor taught us about the four spiritual acts of Lent in one of his sermons:

  1. Giving to the poor
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting/Abstaining
  4. Repentance

It’s that last one that has me thinking today. Repentance is often defined as “to feel sorrow for sin” and rightly refers to our sin against God. But, we also sin against each other in our marriage and family relationships. We offend and hurt the ones we love. And we are offended and hurt by the ones we love.

In every marriage and family there comes a time when we must repent. We must feel sorrow for our actions or words. That is often followed by an apology. How you apologize and what you say in the apology is important.

When an apology is needed, Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas in The Five Languages of Apology encourage us to include the following:

  1. Express regret – “I am sorry.” It helps to be specific about the offense. Avoid saying “but…” That tends to void the apology.
  2. Accept responsibility – “I was wrong.” (Enough said!)
  3. Make restitution – “What can I do to make it right?” This compensation may be monetary, material, or emotional or verbal support.
  4. Genuinely repent – “I’ll try not to do that again.” True repentance means change. In a marriage or family relationship, an intention to not repeat the offensive behavior needs to be verbalized in order to build trust.
  5. Request forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me?” This sends a strong signal that you know you’ve done something that requires forgiving, not just excusing. It also lets the other person know that you want to see the relationship restored.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” – Psalm 51:1-2

Do you need to apologize today?

(Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

Stronger Together – Married with a Chronic Illness

The stress of a chronic illness can be challenging to a marriage, even when two people have been deeply in love for decades. Just knowing that they will live their entire lives (except for a healing miracle) having to cope with the ravages of a disease – such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, lupus, heart disease, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a host of others – is an enormous burden to carry. They constantly deal with questions like these:

How do I juggle my needs with the needs of my chronically ill spouse?
• How can I fight feelings of inadequacy and guilt?
• Am I a burden to my spouse?
• How do I keep it together for my spouse who has a chronic illness?
• What do I do when I find myself thinking, “This is more than I bargained for?”

 

Cindy & Willie Batson

We are well acquainted with these thoughts and feelings. Twenty-one years ago Cindy was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an auto-immune disease that has progressively disabled her to the point of spending most of her waking hours in a wheelchair. We wrestle with the challenges this chronic illness presents daily in our marriage.

(Read what I wrote about this experience here.)

Most marriage ministries are not focused on the unique needs of couples with chronic illnesses. God has called us to reach out to those facing these stressors in their relationships. There are limited resources and expertise to guide them on those occasions when they hit major relational road blocks.

This urgent need was apparent at a large men’s conference where I spoke on how to make your marriage work when your spouse has a chronic illness – physical, mental, or emotional. A small room with 35 chairs was assigned. I wondered if anyone would come. Ten minutes before the seminar, I walked into a room overflowing with guys in every chair, sitting on the floor, and standing against the walls. There were more than 60 men there! A room filled with husbands whose wives are living with life-changing and lifethreatening illnesses. They longed to know how to navigate this journey with courage, understanding, and compassion. Afterwards, they stood in line to tell their stories and ask the raw, candid questions that could only be asked in that room. Cindy was moved deeply by the comments and tears of men who communicated their gratitude to her for suggesting this seminar topic.

These are couples that are in need of help and not everyone can do this type of ministry. Not everyone can speak into their hearts and marriages the way we can. God has given us a distinctive gift and opportunity and that is why we are initiating this new ministry focus in 2012. With God’s help, we will achieve the following:

  • Provide weekend marriage enrichment events specifically for couples with a chronic illness. Because a couple’s finances are impaired by extraordinary medical and living costs, we will need to underwrite a large portion of the expenses for these events.
  • Reproduce ourselves by equipping couples globally with the tools to help others living with chronic health issues in their churches and communities.
  • Expand our online seminar offerings to include specific issues related to marriage and sickness.
  • Partner with organizations such as the National MS Society, Joni and Friends, and Rest Ministries to provide marriage relationship education and training to couples within their associations.

Your financial and prayer support now will help us reach this special group of couples before they become part of that heartbreaking and horrific 75% divorce statistic. Cindy and I are passionate about doing our part, with God’s help, so couples on this challenging journey can be more effective servants of God, minister to others, and proclaim the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Thank you for prayerfully considering a generous donation to this new outreach at Family Builders Ministries. As we celebrate more than 25 years of ministry, Cindy and I will continue to invest our energies in serving all couples, but with a special emphasis on those with chronic health issues.

 

Married with Children (BGMFPOD-003)

Married with Children
(BGMFPOD-003)

Being married with children requires greater determination than many of us expected.  It changes your life in many ways – both in being a blessing and a challenge.

The need to maintain a satisfying relationship with your spouse while raising children is enormous. Marriages advance through an assortment of developmental stages.  Each stage is characterized by certain tasks that need to be performed in order to maintain health and focus.  Keeping your marriage alive during the years of raising children will require no less than your full commitment to performing these tasks.

Note:  You may listen to this episode now or download it free to your computer or other device. To save it to your device, right click on “Download” and choose the appropriate “Save As” option. You can also download the file from the iTunes Store for free.

Tools for Great Relationships (BGMFPOD-002)

Tools for Great Relationships
(BGMFPOD-002)

Every couple enters marriage with their own bag of tools, but is often frustrated by their attempts at fixing things. They either have the wrong tools or do not use the tools properly. Having the right tools in your relational tool bag and using them properly can help you build and sustain a great relationship. In this edition, Willie Batson looks at what he considers to be a few basic tools you should have in your relationship tool bag.

Note:  You may listen to this episode now or download it free to your computer or other device. To save it to your device, right click on “Download” and choose the appropriate “Save As” option. You can also download the file from the iTunes Store for free.

Raising Moral Kids (BGMFPOD-001)

Raising Moral Kids (BGMFPOD-001)

Strategies for helping parents raise moral kids.

Raising moral kids in an immoral world is the result of parents who have clearly defined values and are intentional about communicating their values to their children. Children are born with a will that influences their choices and judgments. As parents, our God-given “job description” includes the shaping of that will so that they will put their trust in God and keep His commands. In this episode, we look at some practical strategies for fulfilling our parental job description.

Note:  You may listen to this episode now or download it free to your computer or other device. To save it to your device, right click on “Download” and choose the appropriate “Save As” option. You can also download the file from the iTunes Store for free.