Friends & Family, Resources

Romantic Relationships, Marriage & Chronic Illness

Whether you’re married, living together or dating, chronic illness causes upheaval in any romantic relationship — no matter if it is solid or if it’s a little rocky. In marriages involving a chronic illness, the divorce rate is more that 75 percent (from A Chronic Dose).

I get asked for advice a lot and am always at a loss for what to say. I’ve finally stumbled upon some helpful resources. They all focus on marriage, but some themes are universal.

Keeping Your Marriage Strong
This overview is a good place to start exploring the topic. It addresses many different topics and gives some suggestions for improving your relationship.

How to Survive a Health Crisis or Chronic Illness
An excellent in-depth article covering a swath of issues that couples face. It has concrete, detailed suggestions for keeping your relationship strong.

Marriage and Chronic Illness: A Couple’s Story
One couple’s experience with chronic illness and how it ultimately improved their marriage.

19 thoughts on “Romantic Relationships, Marriage & Chronic Illness”

  1. My best friend was diagnosed with stage 3 to borderline 4 liver disease in February. During this time we became closer. She called me her best friend, her rock. In May I started developing stronger feelings for her. One night I expressed my feelings to her and she responded that she thinks of me every day, we’ve become so close, that she is falling in love with me, but can’t be in a relationship with anyone because it would be selfish of her and unfair to me or anybody else.

    For 5 minutes I was happier than ever before and then I had my heart torn out. I told her regardless whether I was her friend or boyfriend I will be heartbroken if she succumbed to her disease, but she remains firm. Now, sadly she has backed away, I am heartbroken. We still talk a few times a week for an hour or two but it just doesn’t seem the same.

    I love this woman. I feel torn. Do I slowly back off myself and move on, ignore her phone calls or remain a friend knowing she still could see other men during this time regardless of her disease?

  2. My boyfriend was recently diagnosed with crohns disease. After years of convincing from both his mom and I he finally went to the er. Ever since he got home our relationship hasn’t been the same. I’ve gone back into depression mixed with extreme irritability that’s starting to take a toll on me at work. It hurts me. I know he can’t control it and I know it’s not my full time job to take care of him but I do. I don’t feel appreciated enough and I feel so alone. We don’t get intimate and we hardly ever kiss anymore. I don’t want to leave him. I’m trying to get back into therapy and on antidepressant again but I can’t afford my own copay. I’m not really sure what to do anymore.

  3. My wife has latent genetic myotonic muscular dystrophy which after a recent stroke has deteriorated even after a pacemaker. I have a good sex drive but have looked after my wife for over 10 years with no sex or anything done house wise since I spoiled her a bit by doing all the housework and working to provide everything. Feel that although I have a few friends who are sympathetic, I am trapped in an uncaring relationship. My wife doesn’t care much about anything and just expects me to do everything since she has lost any ability to organise herself due to permanent damage. She had the chance to help me during some illnesses but was not interested which demonstrated a degree of selfishness Don’t know how to improve my life and feel that my life ended years ago.

    1. Mike, you’re carrying a heavy burden. I recommend talking to a therapist who has experience working with clients who have chronic illness. Although you don’t have an illness yourself, the therapist is likely to understand some of the pressures you face and can help you figure out how to work through this with your wife. I know some people are reluctant to see therapists, but I recommend it highly. Doing so has dramatically changed my life for the better.

      Take care,

  4. I have severe Fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Hypothyroid (w/ previous goiter) Celiac, Raynauds, Allodynia, Ulcerative Colitis, autoimmune diseases. This has been going on for 5-1/2 years, I have been married for 7. Before all this life was amazing, we loved each other so much, we did everything together, We went to the gym 6 x a week, pilates 5 x a week, went to the beach in a bikini, which I worked VERY hard to get to, we lived a great life. In 2012 I had a myomectomy, and about 4 months after that I started feeling awful, like I had the flu all the time and everything went downhill from there. In the beginning my husband was at every doctor’s appointment, supporting me, loving me….and now 5+ years later, he hates me. He never shows any affection, we never have sex (1-1/2 years) and he’s just so uncaring and talks about getting a divorce, How do you just leave someone, who you love/loved because something happened to them that they have no control over! It’s become so bad I have applied for Social Sec Disability, I can’t work right now. I WANT to work, I have worked so hard to get to a Director’s level, my career means alot to me, since we can’t have children (thanks to all the autoimune diseases),but now my husband talks about divorce often. HOW DO YOU LEAVE YOUR SPOUSE BECAUSE THEY BECOME ILL!!! How is that even in your thought process, unless you’re just a selfish prick?! I don’t ask for his help with anything, I make his breakast, lunch and dinner, no matter how much pain i am in! I can’t stand for more than 5 minutes without being in excruciating pain, but I still do it! He does NOTHING in the house, I do it, but with major pain! But some days I can’t even get out of bed! All I want is his support and love and to be the decent man I married. I don’t know if i can handle all this alone and it seemd that it is not my choice, unless I leave first, it’s not what i want, but I don’t want him to stay out of guilt, I would rather be alone.

  5. I can’t stop myself to get attracted to a person who suffering with daily headache problems…. He proposed me and after that he frequently suffers with headache… He is telling me to if I wanted to break the relation then no problem….. But I can’t… I don’t want to leave him alone… Though he dnt stay with me even not talk with me… While his headache… But still I can’t stop myself to think about him….

  6. A year ago my wife of 44 years decided that she could no longer live with a disabled man. My primary issues were a direct result of having contracted Hepatitis C when I was given an injected medical blood product in 1968 and 69 while in the army (immunoglobulin). When I was diagnosed finally in 2010 things started in a downward spiral when she told me I could no longer kiss her any more. I could not be treated because of a medical issue where the treatment might stop my heart. The type I had was also very difficult to treat. This finally ended up with her leaving me just about a year ago, a total surprise. There was never any form of hurt or harm or infidelity, not even arguments. Then, another surprise, just a month after that a new Hep C drug was announced that I could take. I just finished treatment and am fully cured, no trace of virus left. I am already feeling far better, physically. However, regardless, the person I loved for 45 years only wants a divorce so that is what it will be it seems. I do not understand it at all.

  7. Research Participants (couples) needed for Migraine Impact study.

    Karen Bacher , PhD student from the Family Studies Program in the College of Education, IFCE Department, at University of New Mexico.and migraine patient for over 25 years, is currently collecting data for a study entitled “Migraine headache: A family affair.” The study seeks to explore the impact of migraine headaches on spouses/partners of patients with migraine headaches. We are seeking married or cohabitating heterosexual couples, aged 21 – 55 years of age, in which the female experiences chronic migraine and the male is migraine free.
    Participation in this study involves completing an on-line survey. Both patient and partner complete their own version of the on-line survey at their own individual convenience. Participation in this study would take approximately 45 minutes per person. The study has been reviewed and has received ethics clearance through the UNM Internal Review Board/Human Protections Research Office.
    Couples interested in participating may contact for full eligibility criteria, benefits of participation and the link to which participants can access the survey on-line. Participants have the option of entering a drawing for a 100.00 Visa gift card at the end of the survey.

  8. Beelined, Just because a tneaemrtt hasn’t cured me 100% doesn’t mean it hasn’t cured others. I would be taking a very egocentric view of healing if I advocated what only works for me. I advocate what I know has helped others. And as for free info. on the internet, I provide plenty, as you see in my blog here, and I spend many hours on it.At some point I will stop this though because I will need to make a living one day, and this kind of work does not pay. It is only to help others.

  9. I am divorced. I have met a wonderful man whom I love. However, he has had a headache non stop for 25 years. He has maintained a successful career and still works but has debilitating headache periods. I only know he feels bad when he tells me. But I’m starting to realize he feels bad all the time. I don’t understand how he’s not crazy. In other words it does not impaire dating. He says he feels better when relaxed. Tense work makes headaches worse. He’s been to the best headache clinics. We’ve been dating 5 months and got serious about a month ago. But I stress enormously about whether I have just fallen in love with someone that is disabled or will be. He’s just ideal for me except for the headache. I cannot imagine stopping dating when we are having such a good time. But I feel like I am taking on a disability that could leave me in a bad marriage and I want a good marriage..

  10. My wife suffers from everyday migraines for the last 3 years. She has not had 1 day without the migraine. She sees a migraine speacalist. Over the last 2 yrs, she started to withdralw from doing anything but going to work. I supported her emotionally since day 1 and still do. Out of the blue, im may, after 3 yrs of suffering this migraine, she said that she is not in love anymore. We feel more like best friends. I was shocked. We have 2 kids 3, 5 together. I think she burried her feelings because before she ever got a migraine, she would always make a point to say we will never divorce. She doesnt want to lose our friendship. She wants us to be best friends. She can not have sex because it makes her migraines worse. Does anyone feel she may have burried her feelings because with living in pain everyday and not being able to go out on date nights, it caused her to feel this way? I love her so much. I need help figuring out if she fell out of love or burried her feelings. She doesnt know y either. And why does she want us to be best friends if she no longer wants to be a married couple? any thoughts


    It could be related to migraine, but that’s not something I can assess for you. I recommend seeing a therapist to work through what’s happening with your relationship and also help your wife better cope with her migraine attacks.

    Take care,

  11. I have an unusual situation compared to others on this post: my ex-husband and I are divorced already for 12 years. After a couple years of hardly talking, we have re-established contact and over time have rediscovered the shared values which made us good friends in the first place (he lives in a different continent). It turns out that both of us have back and neurological issues, which both of us were hesitant to mention initially . . by sharing our experiences, we’ve actually become even closer.

    I find it’s important to care for someone as a human being in co-suffering (the human condition which leaves no one unaffected). Please keep talking, keep sharing, keep caring!

    bless you – Ketty

  12. For anyone who reads this, whether you are the sick one, or not, know this: if you are the one with the illness, learn to take care of yourself. Be independent in your relationship no matter how hard it is, so your spouse will not resent you. Because if they end up resenting you and leaving, you will be doing it all by yourself any ways, might as well start while you are married. If you are the spouse of a sick one, know this; we cannot help it that we are sick, but we can help how much we place on you, but we will never know your limits if you don’t tell us.

    Rosie I am so sorry. I was diagnosed with a chronic illness three years ago, right after I married the man of my dreams. It is not the kind of illness where I am disabled, but I did have a ton of bad nights, doctor visits, and a week of being hospitalized already, and I’m only three years into my illness. It’s an autoimmune disease where my immune system acts up a lot and I get sick often but I am fortunate enough to still participate in life with all of my friends. I just can’t go hiking and stuff like that.

    My husband started resenting me for my illness a little over a year ago and as of 4 months ago we separated and are now getting a divorce. My suggestion to you Rosie is to try and let him know where this is going. I felt so much better too when I left my husband, I felt stronger, and physically healthier. But it will all crash. Now I am sick again and he is not there to help me. No one is, because people don’t warn you about divorce, all of your friends disappear bc they do not know what to say. The stress of maintaining a home by yourself and animals or kids by yourself is a big deal and the stressors will come back and the heartache will be tortuous.

    Please, for me, try to work on your marriage. Go to counseling before it’s too late. My husbad and I did and said somethings that can never be repaired now. I am now the one resentful at God and him for allowing me to get sick and destroying my marriage and all of my hopes and dreams. Finding someone new who will be willing to put up with my illness along with just my regular flaws will be a huge challenge for me. My life has just ended and it feels like someone just died. If you haven’t been through a divorce please don’t be fooled like I was, its not a break up, its one of the most emotionally hard things you will ever feel in your life, each day it feels like someone close to you just died, over and over again. It’s only been two months since my divorce was decided offical, and I am no where near healed. I want you Rosie to know this is only a phase. He may cause you stress while in your marriage and it will keep you sick at times, but that is nothing like what an actual divorce will do to you. I am very sick now and barely hanging on. Stress increases my disease flare ups immensly so I am very sick now.

    I hope everyone finds peace. Including myself. I hope we all figure it out and I hope we all learn to be honest with ourselves and each other. Life is too short for all of these games, and life is very precious if you are a sufferer of a chronic illness. So everyone be good to yourselves and your spouses. Be open minded to try new ways at things and willing to work at them. Please for me, save you marriages. I would never wish this feeling I am going through on anyone.

    God Bless you – Tracy

  13. I have been chronically ill to the point of disability for just over a year now. My husband of eight years and I separated two days ago. He has issues that I just can’t handle with my low energy. A stronger woman could love him better. His bad moods and issues have really affected our children and since he left two days ago, I’ve found I feel much better, like his energy was making my illness worse. Thanks for touching on this subject. xo

  14. I suffer with numerous health issues and as I did some searching today, I came upon your blog. Firstly, great job! I look forward to visiting your site often. I am doing a new blog post today about the effects of chronic illness on marriage and really appreciate the links to resources. My illnesses have been a terrible strain on my marriage and I do understand how the divorce rates are so high in such situations. My husband is extremely supportive but I feel so guilty for what he must go through that I tell him quite regularly to leave me. I know that may sound ridiculous but I just want him to share his life with someone that can actually participate in life. Anyhow, thanks again, great site and I will come visit often.

    Take care,
    Jeannette :>)

  15. I am married to a man with migraines and other off and on issues and it is SO hard. I feel terrible lonely and need him for myself and my childern. I find myself becomeing more angy and I hate myself for it. It has effected who we both are for the worse and it’s hard because we usually awsome together.

  16. I am 42 and my wife is 41. She has had Fibromyalgia for the last 14 years. I am not saying this is true for everyone but we have found that when the weather is warmer and more humid, she feels much better. Because of this we moved from Kansas City to Nashville TN. She was fine for 10 years, the condition was still there but better. After that 10 years it became unberable for her again so we moved to Florida. I am hoping it lasts at least 10 more years. She is able to hold a job and is a very good employee. I can identify with Greg Piburn. I too have had to take on more of the relationship than a husband in a relationship with 2 healthy people. The hardest part for me is the times of lack of sex. It is rough. My wife, whom I do love very much said, if it was so bad in those times of no sex, if I did end up taking care of the need outside the marriage, she would not hold it against me, just so long as I never mentioned it to her.

  17. Illness is so terribly hard on even the happiest marriage. But I feel incredibly lucky to have a wonderful partner and best friend in my husband. In a weird way, I think my (our) struggles have made us closer than ever.

    I totally agree. I don’t think I could do this without Hart.


  18. This is such an important aspect of life for all of us who are dealing with chronic illnesses. I know that my boyfriend is frustrated with my chronic daily headaches, and while he is so supportive and helpful, it definitely puts a strain on our relationship. I’m certainly going to check out those resources, thank you so much.

    Also, if you don’t mind, I’m going to post a link to your blog on my blog page – I recently started blogging about my headaches. 🙂

    I’m glad to hear that your boyfriend is supportive. My husband is too, but you’re right that it is still strains our relationship.

    Thanks for the link. I’ve added you to my blogroll too. You’re off to a great start. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog.

    Take care,

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