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ask: Living with and possibly leaving a sick spouse - a heartfelt story from a reader looking for advice

By Michelle King Robson Expert HERWriter

A couple of days ago, a woman wrote to me in the "ASK Michelle" section and told me her heartfelt, honest, and I think heart-wrenching story about her ill husband, who has multiple sclerosis, and the very real difficulties about living with someone who has changed in so many ways over the years. Many of the changes have affected his personality and made him very difficult to live with at times. I wrote her back and told her how I could totally see where she was coming from in terms of her emotions, and that I understood what she was saying. But I also wanted to post her story here (see below), so others could see it and reply to her and give her more suggestions, support and a sense of hope and that she is not alone. Please, if anyone has anything they'd like to tell her, I would really appreciate it--I'm sending her this link so she can watch for more replies. For example, do you know of another woman who has gone through this, and/or do you know of any resources for her? Thank you everyone!

"I am a 37year old female, well educated and completely healthy. I married my husband 8 years ago, knowing that he has multiple sclerosis. He was a vibrant, fun, clever and interesting person. Over the past 8 years, he has physically deteriorated (developed seizures, incontinence, difficulty walking distances, had a pulmonary embolism and now suffers from depression (but who wouldn't)). He no longer works, he stays home and does some household chores, is obsessed with our finances (we are doing ok), is mean and angry, hardly talks to me, hasn't held me or made love to me in years and honestly I don't even think that he likes me. I really think that I could deal with the physical limitations, it's the emotional stuff that is wearing me down. I've been seeing a counselor who asks me "How much more are you willing to take?" and I just don't know anymore. I'm so lonely and feel so trapped. He refuses to see a counselor or psychiatrist. I feel like an awful person for even thinking of leaving him, but I'm so unhappy that I don't know what else to do. I guess my question is "what kind of woman leaves a sick spouse?"

Add a Comment234 Comments

EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

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April 17, 2014 - 1:36pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

To the anonymous narscinist who wrote to the lady with fibro who,s husband left her when she got sick. May God have mercy on you when your day comes for health problems. We all have our day when our health stats failing, just some of us are unlucky and it comes earlier in life. To say a sick person destroys a spouses dreams and their life when they get sick so it,s o.k to leave them is about as sick as it gets.
One day I am sure you will suffer long and hard and all alone, as no one else would deserve it more.
Do all women a favor and stay single,don,t trap anyone!

March 26, 2014 - 6:46pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I had a child by a man that I had dated for a few months, and when I we found out I was pregnant he insisted that he move in with me. The relationship has been rocky from the beginning--money issues, but the biggest problem was he neglected to tell me about his history of heart failure which he had been diagnosed with 10 years prior. He told me his daily medication was simply for high blood pressure. I found out about his true illness 2 years after he moved in with me AT the hospital after he took himself to the emergency room. Despite feeling deceived I stayed with him after he recovered for the sake of our child. Then 2 years later he ended up back in the hospital after NOT making any of the lifestyle changes that his doctor told him to. He ended having a heart pump put in and then a stroke. After struggling alone with a small child I finally called his seemingly unconcerned family and said I need help. The crazy, unemployed, alcoholic brother was the only one willing to come--and he has made the situation more stressful than it already with his drinking and paranoia. The rest of the family has been telling my child's father that he shouldn't trust me, etc...meanwhile he is on my health insurance, hasn't paid any household bills or childcare even before he got sick on top of the earlier deceptions about his health and finances, and the occasional physical abuse early in the relationship. Oh and while, he's not providing for his child, he has turned over all of his money to his alcoholic brother who has spent every penny.

March 24, 2014 - 9:46pm
Susan Cody HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

Wow, I am sorry you are dealing with so much. It's much more serious when there is a child involved as I am sure you know. 

Do you have friends or family of your own who could help? Can you get away, do you think, at least to give yourself to space and time to think?

You should also enquire if there are any benefits you can get like food stamps or help with housing costs - this could help you become more independent. 

We hope to hear back from you, will you keep us posted?

Susan

March 25, 2014 - 10:53am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I was in counseling after 25 years of an unhappy marriage. My husband had been verbally and emotionally abusive since our engagement, but I had been too timid to break it off. Over the years, he insisted on making all the major decisions: where we would live, when we would have or not have children, where they would go to school, how we would manage our finances. He would not allow me to pursue my interests or have a job. His temper was frightful and sometimes I worried that the children would tell their teachers at school things he said to them, and we'd be in trouble. Once our teenage son asked if he could please be treated better at home. It made me cry, and he said, "Don't worry, Mom, it's not you." Finally, when my children were older, I started working and planned to leave him once our youngest graduated from high school. 5 months before her graduation, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I stayed to take care of him, and really tried to make the marriage work. Now, 2 years later, he in in remission, and I can't seem to be happy here. I keep remembering the many grossly unfair situations he put me in during our marriage. We are more like roommates than spouses. We sleep in separate rooms and are not intimate. Yes he refuses to believe I was ever unhappy, and pretends that everything is normal between us. He is semi-retired and obsessed about our house, so I can never leave anything out of place or I won't be able to find it when I get home. I work 10 to 12 hours a day and keep myself as busy as possible as a way to try to avoid feeling my unhappiness. I try not to show how I feel for fear of making him ill again, but I grow more desperate every day to begin a life of my own.
Regarding the story at the beginning of this thread, I sympathize with you completely. I do not know the answer to your dilemma. Nor do I know the answer to my own. All I know is that I've never been allowed to be happy, and that doesn't seem right. Sacrifice is one thing, but eventually we must consider when we are damaging ourselves. Once we've done enough damage to ourselves, we can't be of much help to a sick spouse. How does one strike the balance and keep everyone healthy? I wish I knew.
Best wishes to you, and to everyone who struggles as I do.

February 7, 2014 - 6:13pm
Susan Cody HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon

I am so sorry about how you have been treated. It's too easy to say what I would do in your shoes but I am not in your shoes so I won't. 

Just bear in mind that you have a busy job and life and your children are grown. You only owe yourself a happy life now - you have fulfilled your obligations and will always be a mom to your children, regardless of your personal life. 

Best,

Susan

February 10, 2014 - 11:34am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

Dear persons with sick spouses,
I can feel for all of you. My wife has been ill for more than 5 years. The diagnosis of Lupus was difficult to make, and took at least 2 years of doctor visits and tests. In part, because of her illness, I lost my job, and had to find another job in another city. I commute back to see her on the weekends. Fortunately, she is considerably better than when she was first ill. She seems comfortable in the family home, yet after some years of commuting, I know that the life that I now live is not an ideal one. Much physical intimacy has been lost. When we talk about our relationship, it is clear that she is filled with ill feelings toward me and others. This is in large part due to years of frustration and ill health. Also due to some age-old issues that are magnified by her illness. There are few answers, and little of a middle ground. As a spouse of a sick wife, you are either all in or all out. I'm still all in. Can I continue to commute for many more years? I've been unsuccessful in finding a job in our "home city". Things are better than they used to me, in large part because see is improved from years earlier.

January 23, 2014 - 10:25am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

to the person with fibromyalgia no one cares. no one has to stay with you. marriage is not slavery and everyone does not take the same vows. you people who get sick ruin the dreams of those who are not . we had dreams when we entered marriage with you and now your sickness destroyed that.
your spouse is not obligated to stay with you and be your nurse. get over it he did not want to throw his lifes dreams away for you. simple

January 16, 2014 - 6:55pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

May I just say to the person with fibromyalgia, that there ARE people who care. And to the person who said that no one cares, I hope you grow a heart some day.

February 7, 2014 - 6:18pm
Maryann Gromisch RN Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hello Anonymous,
Your comment captured my attention. We are all entitled to our opinions. This website is an open forum and welcomes conversation.

However,your response to the member with fibromyalgia is the most heartless and narcissistic comment I have ever encountered. Are you married or in a serious relationship? If so, I hope that you never suffer with a chronic or terminal illness. Will your partner stay with you? Or will you linger and die alone?

In the last five years, I have been diagnosed and battled two primary cancers,
esthesioneuroblastoma, which is a rare form of brain cancer, and breast cancer. My husband of 28 years has been by my side. My three children have been there with me, all the way. Our love and commitment to each other has been galvanized.

"United we stand, divided we fall"
Maryann

January 22, 2014 - 6:09pm
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