Can Marriage Survive Ankylosing Spondylitis?
Has your Ankylosing Spondylitis progressed to the point where you have had to reluctantly admit you are no longer able to work secularly? Many patients have come to that conclusion because of dealing with: fatigue, the unpredictable nature of never knowing whether the next day will be a good day or a bad day, the need to lay down flat or get up or sit down at will in order to relieve pain, the grogginess and mental fog that is a result of the inflammation associated with AS (or perhaps a side effect from the medication), the inability to do repetitive motions, to lift heavy objects or stand for very long, and the increased pain and stiffness in the mornings that make it so difficult to get going. Others have found the ongoing pain makes it impossible to be a reliable employee and/or that the workplace stress exasperates their condition. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. If you are married, and your mate now has to do most of the secular work to support your family, this can present unique challenges to the marriage.
Let’s face it, marriage is a blessing but also requires constant work and has its own share of challenges, even when things are going relatively well. But when one spouse becomes chronically ill while the other spouse remains healthy, complications can easily multiply. The ill mate might wonder: “How can I respect myself when I am unable to carry out my load of responsibilities?”, “Does my partner resent me for my illness?”, “Can our happiness as a couple survive this?”.
On the other side of the coin, the person who is healthy may wonder: “How will I handle it if my mate’s health declines even further?”, “Why do I feel guilty for being the healthy one?”, “How can I handle it if I have to do all the secular work AND help with the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc?”
While it is true that some marriages are greatly strained by chronic illness and perhaps even a few don’t survive, this does not doom yours to failure, nor does it mean your happiness as a couple is over. To the contrary, some couples have even drawn closer and their marriages have come out stronger as a result. What were their secrets for success?
For one thing, those who maintain contentment in their marriage view the illness as the enemy, not their partner. In fact, since marriage is really the bonding of two individuals into ONE, a partnership that unites them into one family, if something affects one partner, then it is really an assault on both. They are on the same team. They are sharing the pain. Therefore, they are happy to work together as a couple and come up with strategies to defeat this common threat. Couples who maintain a great relationship even in the face of chronic illness have learned to accept their situation and then develop effective ways together to adapt. Here are some practical measures that some couples have found work:
1. Consideration for one another is paramount. For example, if you are the patient with AS, it is important not to project an attitude of entitlement, as if your partner owes it to you to support the family and to take on the secular responsibilities that you no longer can help with. After all, don’t you want your spouse to do it out of love, rather than a sense of unfortunate obligation? So instead of having a sense of entitlement, manifest an attitude of appreciation. Work on expressing those feelings of appreciation to your partner regularly. This can be done verbally, and even more powerfully, in action. If you are appreciative and considerate, you will not be demanding. To the contrary, look for ways that you can do something productive and helpful for yourself and for your partner each and every day. Some days you will be able to do more than other days.
If your partner seems to be in a bad mood, it pays to not be overly sensitive. Rather than assume they are feeling resentful towards you, why not assume they just had a bad day and are feeling tired, stressed out or overwhelmed. Perhaps it is the disease they resent, and not you. As we mentioned before, the disease is your common opponent. It’s not your fault that you have Ankylosing Spondylitis, but that doesn’t mean your partner has to love AS. They are allowed to have bad days just as you have bad days.
Consideration is a 2 way street. If you are the sole provider now for the family, and may even have to help with things around the house more than you use to, it is important not to project an attitude of resentment towards your partner. You must put yourself in the shoes of your chronically ill loved one. Did they choose that illness? Do you think they enjoy the pain and the helplessness that they likely feel knowing they cannot do the things they once did? Might they be struggling with feelings of worth and lack of self respect because they can not carry the same load they use to happily carry? How can you help convince them that you harbor no anger or resentment towards them, and that you love them? This would be most apparent by your general attitude toward them and how you treat them.
When you do feel overwhelmed, remember that it is the AS who you are fighting, not your loved one. Draw closer to them and make a united stand. Show appreciation for your mate at whatever they WERE able to do that day, no matter how small it may seem. Were they able to sew a button on that jacket for you, or set the table, or empty the dishwasher? Whatever it was, express gratitude. This helps to build up the self esteem of your parter and allows them to see their worth. If your spouse is having a particularly bad day, perhaps a day with more pain than normal, never underestimate the power of empathy.
And, finally, rather than assume that either of you know the best way to show consideration for one another, why not ask him or her what they would most appreciate? It may be something that you would have never thought of.
2. Maintain your balance. Although chronic sickness has a disrupting effect in one’s life, there are still some steps you can take to at least achieve a measure of balance. For one, it is important that you, individually, as well as together as a couple, take a break every once in a while from serious medical concerns so you can have a life outside of the illness.
As the patient, are there still things you can enjoy that you use to do before AS struck? What new activities can you learn or try that will not endanger your health? Be adventurous! Learn knitting, or chess, or a new low impact sport. Start a blog, find some way to be of help in your community, adopt a new pet, learn a musical instrument or find a creative outlet. Take time to enjoy nature and the outdoors. The possibilities are really endless. Your As does NOT have to define you.
As a couple, enjoy time together. This is important in keeping balance. It could be as simple as reading to one another, learning a new language together, going to the movies, or even taking a trip somewhere. Try having a regular “date night”. This will strengthen your bond and will remind you that your life, and your marriage, is still yours. It is not owned by Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s also good to enjoy the company of others. Can you invite another couple to join you and make it a double date? Or just have other family members or friends over and have dinner, hang out, or go somewhere. Isolation is unhealthy as a person and as a couple. Periodic association with others not only lifts your spirits, but it also helps you restore mental perspective.
As the sole financial provider of the family, and perhaps even a part time care giver, do not forget to also take time for yourself so you do not experience what is frequently called “burn out”. Do not ignore your personal needs. Set aside quiet private time for yourself on a regular basis. It could be a hot bath at the end of the day with a good book, or just you and a cup of coffee early in the morning before anyone has gotten up. Or it could be a long walk or jog outside with nature.
Yes, to maintain balance while battling a chronic illness, it is crucial that each member of the marriage take time to refresh themselves privately, and also that they take time as a couple to have a life outside of the illness, outside of work and outside of household responsibilities. This is one crucial secret for success that happy families have found works.
3. A third practical and important feature that many married couples have found essential in maintaining a close relationship despite dealing with chronic illness is to keep a positive attitude! This sounds cliche and nice on paper, but it really is one of the single-most important and powerful things that a couple can do. So, how is it done?
It requires that neither partner dwell on what might have been, or fall victim to the “why me?” syndrome. “Why did I have to get Ankylosing Spondylitis when hardly no one else in my immediate circle of friends and peers have it?” Or, “why did my spouse have to get AS when none of my friends have mates with this horrible disease and they are all able to live normal and happy lives?” Focusing and dwelling on the “why mes” and the “what ifs” will absolutely take you no where and will only rob you of happiness. The truth is, in this world, everyone is dealing with something. Your friends may not have AS, but they may have some other chronic illness that limits them in some way. They may be dealing with the death of someone they loved. They may be having very serious financial problems, or emotional or mental struggles. Everyone has SOME battle. It may not be the same face as your opponent, but they are battling an opponent of some kind. Even families that appear to be the most perfect in the world have a closet full of secrets that they are not advertising, and you might be shocked to learn that many of them are much more serious even than your own.
The secret, then, instead of comparing your current self to a past version of yourself or comparing yourself to what you THINK others have in their lives, is to accept your particular current situation and make the most of it.
As a couple, discuss your blessings together. You have heard the expression “count your blessings”, but have you ever actually done it? Take delight in even the smallest of improvements in your health. When you have a good day, celebrate it. Also, set small realistic and reachable goals together. For example, plan a trip together. What steps do you need to take in order to make the trip a reality? Outline them. This gives you something to look forward to and something to achieve together.
ASK: What Do You And Your Partner Need To Work On The Most?
* Give The Illness More Attention
* Take the Focus Off the Illness
* Set Up a Date Night
* Have More Social Contact Outside of the Marriage
* Show More Consideration For One Another
* Find More Mutual Interests Outside of the Illness
* Set Mutual Goals
* Set Aside More Private Time Individually