Quick Tips for Adjusting to Married Life with a Chronic Illness

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  • Educate yourself about your condition. Learn how to live with your chronic illness. At first it might seem like it is controlling you, but the more you learn and can do for yourself, the more normal and in control you will feel.
  • Recognize your limits and learn to say no.
  • Build fun into your life. Plan some activities for both of you to participate in together.
  • Effective communication is vital for the long-term health of your marriage
  • Focus your physical and emotional resources on those things that matter most.
  • Accept help from others.
  • Share your gifts and talents with others.

Are there others that you would add?

Your Attitude Influences Your Marriage

 

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Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:8 (New Living Translation)

You cannot always change your environment, but you can change your attitude. The day after a heavy rain, you can look down and see puddles and mud, or look up and see a beautiful sky. It’s a change of perspective.

A key element to a healthy, strong marriage is the attitude you both have about your marriage. The attitude that you and your spouse choose to have, on a daily basis, will greatly influence the life you enjoy together. Negative attitudes can create a tremendous weight on your marriage, while a consistently positive attitude can help uplift your marriage – putting everything in its real perspective.

Your attitude – how you think about your spouse and what you think about your spouse – is powerful because it determines your feelings and actions. It’s easy to be negative in marriage, which makes it even more necessary that you focus on your spouse’s good qualities and express thanks with positive words.

If you are expecting and anticipating that your spouse is going to be complaining, that is what you are going to hear. Since you are expecting it, it will be what stands out most when your spouse speaks to you. If you expect your spouse to be dissatisfied with you, then you are going to prepare an appropriate (or inappropriate) response in advance, even when that might not have been your intention.

When you think negative thoughts or expect negative responses, you develop a negative attitude. Attitude is what you get after you develop a style of thinking (positive or negative) and then practice it so well that it seems like you don’t even have to think it out before you respond. Having an attitude is like pre-thinking your next response.

A positive attitude requires a clear action plan that addresses your thoughts and words. Here are three affirmations that you can use to build a better attitude about your marriage:

  1. I will not be a complainer!
  2. I will speak to myself with encouraging words! I will speak aloud things that God says are true, regardless of how I feel.
  3. Every time I think of my spouse, I will pray, “Lord, thank you for giving my husband/wife as your awesome gift. Help me to see the great value of your gift to me!”

Let’s talk:  How has your attitude about yourself and/or your spouse played either a positive or a negative role in your marriage?  Please leave a comment below.

The above post is an excerpt from Tools for a Great Marriage Devotional by Willie Batson.

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The Super Bowl and Marriage

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The biggest and most-watched sporting event of the year has hit America again – the Super Bowl. It is the ultimate convergence of popular culture and athletics. From the star-studded halftime show to the multi-million dollar commercial time slots, the spectacle is unprecedented in sports. Two football teams have worked and endured injuries since early summer to achieve their mid-winter dreams.

But what does this have to do with marriage? What do marriage and football have in common? Winning the Super Bowl of relationships (marriage) requires some of the same things required to win the Super Bowl of football. To win the Super Bowl, football teams must be focused on some key fundamentals of the game.

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi started every season with a team meeting and the same speech. Surrounded by veterans and rookies alike, he would hold a football high above his head so that each player could see it. With all eyes on him, he simply said: “Gentlemen, this is a football.” In only five words, Lombardi communicated his point – We’re going to start with the basics and make sure we’re executing all the fundamentals.

nflIn marriage, it’s not enough to simply hope your marriage will be a life-long success. You must know the basics and make sure you are executing all the fundamentals of a great marriage. So, here are three fundamentals that can help you win the Super Bowl of relationships. To help you remember them, just think NFL.

N – Nurture a Shared Goal for Your Marriage

Everyone on the football team wants to win. They have a singular focus. They are committed to moving the ball in the same direction.

This shared goal and focus is a major ingredient of being a “team.” Dr. Howard Hendricks, a noted author and speaker, said that one of the things he learned from working with the Dallas Cowboys was the importance of the team. “When you are on a team,” he said, “you play off the strengths of your teammates. You don’t tackle the guys who wear the same color uniforms.”

To win the Super Bowl, football players work as a team. They help each other do their job. They double team and cover for each other. They work at getting along with each other on the field and off the field. When there is discord between players or coaches there will be trouble on the playing field. Discord blurs your vision of the goal.

To win the Super Bowl of relationships also requires a shared goal and a singular focus. An old man was asked why he chose his wife to be his wife. His response was, “She was the one I wanted to grow old with.” That’s a singular focus.

What is your goal in marriage? To have your own way? To win all the arguments? To have your every need met? Selfishness destroys football teams and marital teams.

Jesus spoke about the marriage goal…

“Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Oneness – Unity – Bonded – Lasting a Lifetime.

F – Fight for Your Marriage

Expectations are high at the beginning of the Super Bowl. Each team is confident that all will go their way. There will be setbacks – fumbles, interceptions, quarterback sacks, and penalties. The opposition will try to keep the other team from gaining yardage, scoring touchdowns, and ultimately from winning the game. There are people on and off the field fully committed to making sure the other team does not win.

couple-hugging_canstockphoto7194135aOur marriages are worked out on the pressure-cooker fields of our lives. We have more than our share of daily stress. On top of career demands, there is a spouse to love, kids to raise, and perhaps aging parents to care for in their golden years. Marriages have been blown apart by unfulfilled and unrealistic expectations, unfortunate circumstances, and unwise choices.

You have to fight for your marriage daily. It begins with an all-out commitment to each other. Your marriage is bigger than any issue. You will stand together no matter what (or who) is lined up against you. Why? Because you promised.

A research study of more than 5,000 couples by the National Survey of Family and Households found that two-thirds of unhappy married spouses who stayed married reported their marriages were happy five years later. Researchers found that the couples that endured and overcame problems in their relationships found the strength to persevere because of their intense commitment to their marriages.

No marriage is perfect, but what are you going to do to protect what is good about your marriage from whatever opposition is coming at you?

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
(1 Corinthians 13:7, New Living Translation)

L – Listen to the Coach

Winning football teams pay attention to the coach. He makes the rules. He gives the instructions. He knows what must be done to win. Even the greatest quarterback needs input from the coach. They need an outside perspective. A great coach knows it is about the team, not about him/her.

Who is coaching your marriage? Whose rules are you following? Who do you go to for an outside perspective?

Jesus is our marital Head Coach. He knows all about how to have successful relationships. His Word, the Bible, is our “play-book.” This is where the strategies for the game are written. There are offensive and defensive strategies. In the Bible, you find the dos and don’ts of a healthy relationship.

  • Be kind and compassionate to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Confess your sins to each other. (James 5:16)
  • Don’t grumble against each other. (James 5:9)
  • Do not lie to each other. (Colossians 3:9)
  • Encourage one another. (Ephesians 4:32; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; Hebrews 3:13)
  • Honor one another. (Romans 12:10)
  • Love one another. (John 13:34)
  • Offer kindness to one another. (1 Peter 4:9)
  • Pray for each other. (James 5:16)
  • Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
  • Teach and admonish one another. (Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:14)

Our marriages are won or lost on our ability and willingness to carry out the coach’s game plan.

Marriage is indeed the Super Bowl of relationships. Winning football teams are unwavering and have an enduring commitment to reach their goal. Are you as determined to win the Super Bowl of relationships?

Discuss: What are some other fundamentals of football that would help you win the Super Bowl of relationships?

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”.

Habits of Best Friends in Marriage

1. Friends stay in touch with each other. Friendship implies a continuing relationship in which both parties involved make consistent efforts to maintain. To neglect these special efforts is to risk allowing the relationship to wither and possibly disappear entirely. We verbally communicate with each other in a way that says, “I am interested in you as a person.” We ask about the day’s events; inquire about what has been read; anything that transcends talk about career and parental roles. We let each other know where we are as a courtesy.

2. Friends share themselves and their experiences. Without this level of sharing you may have an acquaintance, but you do not have a friend. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and experiences creates an openness that deepens the bond. Andre Maurois defined a happy marriage as “a long conversation that always seems too short.” Spouses who have grown apart share only negative emotions and cynical or critical thoughts which focus only on problems and frustrations.

3. Friends are supportive during troubles times.Friends must always be there for one another, not only during the good times, but also during times of emotional turmoil or personal crisis. To have such a friend in times of need is a wonderful source of strength. What helps me get through my troubled times is when Cindy gives me a hug and tells me she is confident that God will help us get through this.

How have you and your spouse supported each other through difficult times?
(Please leave a reply below.)

4. Friends consistently affirm one another. Good friends communicate a very simple message: “I like you, and being with you makes me feel good.” The base of such a relationship is a deep acceptance of one another along with encouragement as life circumstances evolve. Love and acceptance should never be conditional. Such a conditional acceptance drives a wedge in the relationship that tends to deepen with the years. We seek to communicate regularly in words and deeds, in small acts of kindness and loving words, the value we find in each other. On one of our wedding anniversaries, Cindy gave me a card with the following statement: “It’s one thing to be in love. It’s another to be good friends. And it’s a wonderful thing to be madly in love with my best friend!” That’s affirming!

What are some creative ways that you have affirmed your spouse?
(Please leave a reply below.)

5. Deep trust always exists between friends. As friendship deepens, a corresponding openness about experiences and feelings develops. The price of friendship is personal vulnerability – letting your spouse know about personal doubts & sensitivities. Such information must always be respected and the vulnerability must never be violated. To deepen our trust we seek to never use a personal sensitivity to hurt each other when we are angry. We do not gossip about each other. It’s a betrayal of marital trust.

6. Friends let go and have fun together. Good friendships do not focus exclusively on problems or emotionally intimate discussion. Time is spent just having fun together. Good friends can let go to enjoy good times spent together knowing that they are deeply accepted and that they will be there for one another when tough times come. As married life becomes busier, humor often fades, and no time remains for fun. Stressed and tired, couples feel overwhelmed with responsibilities. They forget how to relax and enjoy lighthearted times together. Fun is a powerful tool in relieving stress.

What do you and your spouse do to keep the fun in your relationship?
(Please leave a reply below.)

Conclusion

A special friendship is what a marriage relationship is all about. At its root, marriage is not sex, romance, emotional highs, or pleasure. All these are part of the total relationship, but the core of marriage is a partnership built on emotional closeness, acceptance of one another, and fulfilling companionship. You can strengthen your marriage friendship. It will take commitment, work, and time. Why just be married when you can be married to your best friend?

 

Dancing in the Minefields

When it comes to living out our marriage vows in a chronic illness marriage (or any marriage for that matter), this song from Andrew Peterson says it all. I’m really impressed with the quality of the lyrics and the simplicity of the music. It is a great reminder to all of us married folks. Enjoy and celebrate!

In Sickness and In Health

On our wedding day in 1972, I spoke words of everlasting promise to my wife in front of family and friends. They sounded so profound and so spiritual. Honestly, I was so in love with this woman I would have said anything! I promised her the world! Marry me and you’ll go places!

Decades later we are still married. Still loving each other. The promise of commitment to one woman “till death us do part” have weathered storms with gale force winds and a few bombing raids by enemy aircraft. I have developed a healthy respect for those promises made when it seemed nothing could go wrong.

On a chilling December night, I stood in a hospital room not unlike I have done many times in my pastoral career. But this was different. This night, this room, this hospital was about to find a permanent place in my gallery of remembrances. Cindy, the receiver of my reckless promise of enduring commitment, lay in that hospital bed. The admissions clerk had extended us the privilege of the hospital’s VIP Suite at no extra charge. A private suite of two rooms royally appointed it was reserved for presidents, governors, mayors, and a child of the King. This was a small consolation for the seven months of unexplained numbness, pain and increasing discomfort.

A dozen guesses at the cause, vials of blood for evaluation, electrodes and pin pricks for tests, physical therapy to manage the pain — all added up to nothing. The doctors were confused.

We were pleased to know what it wasn’t, but frustrated because Cindy was not well. We prayed. We anointed. We persevered.

The months before Cindy’s hospitalization had gradually changed our home, our lifestyle, and our relationships. She was losing the ability to independently function in her daily life.

Our two daughters (ages 13 and 9 at the time) patiently and lovingly assumed more household duties. However, I found it difficult to add more duties to an already crowded calendar. The daily and weekly functions that Cindy administered and executed with such expertise had been taken for granted. The necessity of crutches for walking, the swelling of her legs when she would sit-up, the inability to remain at our family table for the complete meal, the restless nights of interrupted sleep, were all draining energy from our family.

I felt so weak when she would look to me for help. What more could I do? You see, like many men, I approach problems with a “fix it” mentality. Often I was able to correct and repair whatever troubled my wife. But what could I do about this? I prayed. I drove her to doctor’s appointments and the numerous diagnostic procedures. I held her when she cried tears of pain, anger and frustration. It didn’t seem to be enough.

None of this seemed fair. There was much to do for God. People to see. Sermons to preach. Seminars to lead. Books to read. Articles to write. But, I remembered my promise — “in sickness and in health.” Our love was being tested. My promise to love was getting an Olympic workout.

The VIP Suite of the Portsmouth Hospital had not been on the itinerary when I said she would go places with me. Yet, here we were. It seemed the last possible diagnostic test had been done. And now we awaited the doctor’s report. A brain tumor? Or would he once again say he had found nothing?

The MRI scan revealed telling spots on Cindy’s brain. Through a process of elimination the doctor arrived at his judgment. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – a neurological disease, the cause of which is as yet undetermined. It attacks the coating or insulation around the message-carrying nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord causing varying interruptions of the nervous system.

“Thank you, God, for an answer. Not knowing has been awful. Thank you that it is not immediately life-threatening. But why MS? Why us?” “Why” questions are tough. They are monsters. There are no easy answers.

Over the years I have come to understand that the indispensable basis for an enduring, unwavering and joyful commitment to a strong marriage is an implicit faith in God’s goodness. I stake my life on the certain truth that God would never ask us, his children, to go through anything that does not have our well being in view. God has marked out for us a path that is leading to unparalleled joy for us and glory for Him.

I don’t mean to convey that it has been easy. Life is not unlike reading highly technical books on theology or science or philosophy. There are some pages of information that are hard to comprehend. The only thing you can do is put a marker there and go on reading. Perhaps, later it will make some sense.

Cindy and I have put a marker on this page in our lives and are moving on in our marriage of love and promises. It has been almost ten years since that night we found out about MS. God has blessed us with a growing love in the midst of challenging days. There are limitations, but we are learning to adjust and thrive in God’s grace.

Often Cindy is holding on to my arm as we walk along – a means of maintaining balance and safety. I remember how she was on my arm walking down that church aisle after we were pronounced husband and wife. It was then that we began a wonderful journey of trusting each other for steadiness and safety in whatever we faced – “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”

© 2000 William Batson – All rights reserved

UPDATE:  Cindy’s disability has advanced to where she has to use a wheelchair at all times. She remains active in ministry with Willie, cooking, swimming, and being Nana to their grandchildren.

Comments are welcomed below.