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Does Health Affect Your Relationships?

David Spero

October 8, 2008

I guess that when you’ve been married for 33 years, you have to expect some ups and downs. For me and my partner Aisha, it was mostly up for the first 28 years or so. Now it seems like there’s a lot of down time, and I think that my health has a lot to do with it.

I don’t have diabetes. I have multiple sclerosis (MS), which damages my nerves and causes a lot of disabilities. I think it’s hard for her to cope with. It makes her sad; it makes her angry, which is tough on me. I guess the MS makes me sad, too, which is tough on her. She often says our apartment is a sad place. I don’t usually feel sad, but maybe she thinks I am. Anyway, it frequently seems we’re bringing each other down as much as pulling each other up.

The reason I bring this up is that Aisha and I have been doing sex counseling with other couples, some with diabetes and some with MS, and hearing similar stories. In at least a couple of reports, it seems that diabetes may raise divorce rates, perhaps because of the negative effect on sex. I’ve written here before about sexual issues, and they are important. But there’s a lot more going on.

I think that, sometimes, the people with the illness start to get down on themselves. They feel less attractive or less worthy. They feel guilty about not being able to carry as much of the load, and they grieve over the loss of their healthier self.

It also seems that the healthier spouses get down on themselves, too, for not being a good enough partner or for resenting their partner’s changes. Each member of a couple may definitely start resenting the other one. I sometimes find myself resenting Aisha’s ability to enjoy herself in ways that I can no longer share, or spending time on things I consider unimportant.

Both members of a couple where there is chronic illness probably have fears about the future. If things seem to be getting worse in the relationship, they may dread where the partnership seem to be going.

It’s obviously important to talk about these issues with each other and try to do some problem-solving. Certainly, some couples find that meeting the challenges posed by diabetes (or MS) have brought them closer together, although it usually takes some work.

It might be helpful to get some professional help with some of this. (Although A and I have seen family counselors several times and not found it particularly helpful, I know they help some people.)

Other Relationships
I think chronic illness can affect all relationships, not only marriages. Our connections with our children, parents, siblings, and friends can all suffer. People may not know how to relate to us; they may have all kinds of misconceptions about us. They may just not be comfortable with the idea of chronic illness.

What Can You Do?
So my question for you is, has diabetes affected your relationship? For good, for bad, or for both? What changes have you noticed? Most importantly, what have you done about it, and how has it worked out? I could use the help, so please let us know by commenting here.



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