During our first year of marriage my wife and I encountered an unexpected challenge. Angela spent most of the year sick. Really sick.
Just as we were getting our apartment settled and becoming used to living with each other, she developed severe allergy and respiratory problems. For the next several months, this active woman who'd hardly missed a day of work spent the majority of her time in bed. Angela was diagnosed with bronchitis eight times, pneumonia once, and a myriad of other allergic conditions in between.
Sickness is just one of many challenges that come into a marriage. Whether it's something drastic, such as a life-threatening disease, or something chronic, such as pms, migraines, or asthma attacks, here are 7 things you can do to help your ill spouse.
You can never be too sympathetic. Show you care. What your spouse needs and wants most during a tough time is your support. Don't be silent—that can communicate apathy. Express your sorrow at what your spouse is experiencing. Ask if you can get him anything—a cup of tea, a foot rub. Offer to pray for and with him.
Avoid blame. Your spouse's illness may require you to miss work, social outings, or other events you consider important. Try to avoid compounding your mate's pain by acting as if it were her fault. Even shrugs or frowns can communicate disgust and leave your spouse feeling like a burden.
Be an advocate. When illness becomes severe, the world of medicine, physicians, and insurance can be confusing. Try to accompany your spouse to all important medical visits. Not only can you be an advocate, you can be another set of eyes and ears, helping keep track of medicine dosages and precautions.
Your involvement sends an important signal that your sick spouse is not walking this road alone.
Be selfless. View your spouse's pain as an opportunity for servanthood. That may mean endless trips to the store, taking off work, performing household chores, or spending time at her bedside, ready to serve in whatever capacity she needs.
Help keep perspective. When you're really ill, it's easy to lose perspective. You may begin to wonder, Is this going to last forever? Am I going to lose my job? Does the doctor really mean that?
While you don't want to pretend everything's okay—that just bugs your mate!—you do want to focus on what's really happening and avoid the dangerous and alarming "what if" games. Stay positive and upbeat, because your ill spouse will feed off that energy.
Sometimes you just need to have a good laugh. Retell some of your favorite stories or share something funny that happened at work. Proverbs 17:22 tells us that laughter can have a surprising healing effect.
Stay connected. Everyone needs a support system, especially when going through a difficult time. You may be surprised at how people really want to help where they can. Don't be too proud to ask for prayer, a babysitter, or a meal.
Constantly affirm your love. During an illness—whether it's the flu, a headache, or a serious disease—you see your loved one at his worst. Fatigue and medicinal side effects can often make him moody and irritable. Yet this is when you can demonstrate your unconditional love. An extra dose of patience, a kind word, a gentle touch, a sweet kiss, and a soft-spoken, "I'm still here for you. I love you no matter what," go a long way to help your spouse feel better.
Daniel Michael Darling is a freelance writer and editor.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.