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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
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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 Comment256 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I'm surprised to see that so many people are in similar situations with Ill spouses. My husband and I have been together for almost 13 years now. Shortly after we got married, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. I work in the medical field, so I was fully aware of the long term effects that these conditions would have on his health. However, I thought that he (like most people in this situation) would step up and try to take better care of himself to prevent, or at least delay, the decline in his health. I was wrong. Instead, he continues to eat sugary foods, and his diabetes has brought on gastroparesis from the nerve damage. Unfortunately, he is the bread winner in our household, and has missed a lot of time from work this year, and is now at risk for losing his job. On one hand, I feel sorry for him and try to make sure that he's taken care of, but on the other hand, I am a little resentful because he could have done a much better job of managing his diabetes, and may not have wound up in this situation (at least not at the young age of 42). I am only 35 years old, but feel much older from all the worrying and staying at home on summer weekends when we should be out doing something fun. I still love my husband, but am also thinking about divorce...with the way he stays in bed all day, I feel like I am alone so much of the time. Yes, I feel guilty, but I am now focusing on taking care of myself and preparing for the tough road ahead; I'm unhappy with our marriage and would like to move on, but also worry that the divorce may cause him to spiral deeper into depression.

August 23, 2014 - 2:36pm
Miss Sunshine

It's so nice to read these messages, not that would wish your situations on you but that I'm not alone in how I feel. My partner has ms and although is mobile, his mood swings are a nightmare. It's usually when he isn't feeling well and I understand that, but it's just so hard to move on when he is feeling better....the love that I have for him is getting damaged every time and finding out hard to switch back into our previous relationship when he is back to his normal self. I feel like I am falling out of love or maybe it's just putting my barriers up when he is bad...we have young children too which means I have to keep going and try and keep everything normal. Everything seems so dark at the moment can't image what the future is going to hold but really hope it gets better soon.wow feels good to unload! Keep strong people xx

August 2, 2014 - 5:24am
EmpowHER Guest

My wife was diagnosed with MS the same year we got married. It has not been easy . Her mood swings were at their worst when steroid treatments were being done. My story's of what has been going on are very similar to all of you . I'm truly at a breaking point. I feel so alone some times. Then at times she will say the same thing to me. I feel like a walking punching bag to say the least. During recent arguments she constantly bring up a divorce. We've been married for four years and for those years I struggled my tail off to give her what she needs. When I think about leaving her I feel like a scum bag but yet she throws it in my face as a dagger of some sort. They say that MS changes you and I get that. I've seen the changes in her in a short time and I'm trying to roll with it , I just don't know how much longer I'm willing to play the caretaker,emotional caretaker,punching bag, breadwinner, husband. You story's have been helpfull. Thanks

July 5, 2014 - 2:13pm
EmpowHER Guest

If anyone in the UK is reading this and in a similar situation, would you consider taking part in my doctoral research? www.carersleavingrelationships@wordpress.com. I'm a counselling psychologist in training and passionate about getting these stories heard.

July 5, 2014 - 12:49pm
EmpowHER Guest

My boyfriend recently found out he has MS. He's been pushing me away ever since and I'm not sure what I should do. I don't want to stress him out any more than he is. I couldn't imagine what he is going thru, I just want to find happiness with him again. I don't know if that means letting him go to figure himself out and just hopping he finds his way back . Or fighting for us even if he's pushing away...

July 1, 2014 - 9:17pm
EmpowHER Guest

Oh wow! I felt like all of you were speaking to me. I am 41, he is 43. He has congestive heart failure and a few other issues. He is now wearing a Life Vest because he is at risk for SDA or sudden cardiac arrest. I have been with him for 7 years. I love him, but I too am tired of not being loved back. I work and he stays home with our daughters, ages 3 and 13. I work hard and I am always tired when I get home. He doesn't seem to care about that lately. We live in a hotel and don't have a car. All things changed when he got really sick. We lost EVERYTHING! I am trying to get us back to where we were but he is constantly depressed that he cant work, always tired from the kids and never has time to just sit down and talk to me. I just got home an hour or so ago and he is on the couch asleep. I told him tonight it would be nice to spend some time with him when I get home, he said, I know baby, then went to sleep. I feel so alone. I want to leave, but I know that I am all that he has. I know that is not a reason to stay, but what else can I do? He too was vibrant and fun loving and then somewhere along the way all that left! I am sick and tired. I went through this with my first husband, I left him when he got better because all of the things he used to appreciate, he started taking for granted when he got better. He died 6 years after we divorced. I think I am afraid of the same thing happening. I understand you pain and if I knew the magic answer to fix all this I would definitely share. Much love to you in whatever you decide to do. I just found this page because I am in one of those moods tonight. I am a young 41, I love laughing and having a good time. Almost everyone that is close to me has noticed that I don't have that anymore. This stuff hurts. So many people don't see that the caregiver sometimes needs caring for! Thanks for letting me vent, and be blessed!!

June 19, 2014 - 9:14pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hi To cut a long story short. .I thought I was reading about me. .your story is my story except I left and it was the saddest ,hardest thing I have had to do. .23y of marriage 2 beautiful boys but we had to leave because my husband's M.S was destroying our whole family. Today I am happy my kids are happy but my ex still lives a life of selfpitty and nothing has changed he won't help himself lives a life of pitty. The why me life. I know it must be very hard to except and yes you grieve your loss of your
Life that once was but at some point you have to say ok I have M.S and I'm going to live and make the most with my family. my husband never did he and still to this day he is not wanting to even try to help himself.
So yes it was the saddest thing I ever did but I'm soo glad I had the curriage to leave. After 23y of hoping he would one day say ok I have M.S and I'm going to live and do the best I can!! It never came. I think if I had stayed my children would of suffered. .they were 14 and 19, today they are happt, eldest one is married and I have a grandson and my youngest lives with me. I'm alone but I'm happy. I left 8 years ago and I look back and think how did I leave. ..

June 13, 2014 - 1:02pm
EmpowHER Guest


I am a 29 year old female and have been going out with a 30 year old male for seven years. We were engaged to be married next year, spent the last three years restoring this old house we had bought, making plans for our future and basically just living and loving life, with all its ups and downs. February of this year, my fiance was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which was a shock to us all as prior to the attack leading to the diagnosis, my fiance was a strong, healthy man who trained 5 times a week and showed absolutely no symptoms of the disease. The diagnosis has sent me into whirlpool of emotions - anger, denial, mourning. The first month and a half I never left his side, however, when I began to better understand the implications of this disease, I began to fear for the future and started having mini panick attacks where I felt just soo overwhelmed. I have seen psychologists, psychiatrists, a priest and his own neurologists privately. I'm trying to do everything I can to overcome m fear of the future, but I am afraid I just won't be able to. I love this man deeply, and leaving would be the most difficult thing to do. I would appreciate advice from anyone who has been in the same situation.

June 10, 2014 - 12:49am
EmpowHER Guest

I was with my partner for 12 years. We met when I was 19 and he was 22. He was a normal, healthy, strong man who was my best friend. We had our ups and downs but we were happy and madly in love and ended up having a child together. Life was good until he began to lie and steal from my friends and family and even his own family. He never cheated on me and never would have, he loved me with all of his heart and I loved him but found myself losing respect for him and falling out of love with him due to all of the lies. I wanted to leave at this point but he ended up falling ill and was diagnosed with coeliac and then pulmonary embolisms. He couldn't work so I ended up supporting the three of us but the lies continued, not only that but our sex life was non existent (it had never been that great). A few years went by and he had surgery to remove most of his small bowel (it had been damaged by blood clots restricting his blood flow) and seemed to be on the mend, he was also awaiting surgery to remove the clotted tissue from both lungs. I left him a few months before that happened (I had left him a few times in recent years but always went back because he was ill and I felt guilty for leaving. After all, I loved him, I just wasn't "in love" with him. I was his whole world and he reminded me of that constantly). I met someone soon after we separated and he couldn't come to terms with it. 3 months after I left he passed away, leaving our 8yo daughter without her beloved father. I often ask myself if he'd still be here if I hadn't left but I think it was just his time. I think you need to ask yourself if you could live with yourself if this happened to you. My life is a daily struggle and I have so much guilt for not being there for him, even though I was unhappy and wanted to leave before he became sick.

June 7, 2014 - 9:28am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you so much for writing this. I just left my fiancee of 5 years in April and it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. We were on the verge if a break up 1.5 years ago as I was sick and tired of deception and just really wasn't in love with him like once had been. He was a "decent" father a "decent" partner but everything was about him all the time, he never did anything with me (without pulling teeth) and it got old fast. The reason I stayed with him was bc we had a young child together and I was mostly comfortable even though I was not happy. Then at that time right after Christmas he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer that had spread throughout his abdomen. This in some ways brought us closer together and in other ways ripped us apart. I stayed by his side through 31 chemo treatments, multiple long hospital admissions and surgeries while I worked full time as the only income, finished my undergrad and cared for him and our 2 y/o at the time. He seemed to make his way to recovery and I started to notice that he really was not trying to help himself- he didnt take his meds properly, he barely moved from the couch(part was depression), he was abusing his prescriptions, smoking weed all day(pissed me off), went back to smoking cigs, I would go days without even talking to him and he not talking to his son, he was mean and I felt unloved and used and it got so frustrating and I was getting more and more angry as the days went on and it was effecting my parenting and life . I told him I was leaving him. He didn't seem upset by this. I waited nearly 1 month for some reaction some plead, anything and I got NOTHING. So I took our son and left him.I told him I wanted him to get help I would go to counseling with him as a family to try and save our relationship. Not a day goes by I do not cry bc im not there to care for him. But I know this is for the better for me. He has not made contact with his son in 2.5 months and i'm very afraid he is going to die and I am not going to be able to live with myself. I'm so angry at him for ignoring his child that it turns my insides and makes me want to explode. It is a terrible thing to live with I just do not know what do to. I have tried to reach out and have gotten nothing and I hurt so bad for my son as he doesn't even ask about him anymore. He has set up outpatient counseling services and drug services I just hope he sticks with it and can be a part of our child's life as he has been given a second chance at life. Thank you for posting, just knowing someone else has experienced something similar makes me feel a little better. I, just as you wanted to leave before the illness struck but things didn't work that way and I guess we will have to live with it.

June 8, 2014 - 6:47pm
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