First off, let me introduce myself. My name is Rachel. I have been married to my wonderful husband for close to four and a half years. I have Crohn’s Disease. I was diagnosed when I was seventeen. I am now twenty-four. My husband and I are also dealing with infertility. You can read my blog at www.rachelsgettingthere.com . I mostly blog about infertility, but this post isn’t about my infertility. It is about the importance of healthy communication in my marriage, specifically as it pertains to my chronic illness.
As I said, I was diagnosed at seventeen, so my husband knew what he was getting himself into when he married me. When we first started dating, he researched Crohn’s Disease and read everything he could find about the treatments and the prognosis. I think that him knowing about my illness when we married was definitely a plus because he sort of knew what to expect.
We talked about a lot of things before we got married. We set rules for communication. Communication has always been very important in our relationship. We have a policy in our marriage that we call ‘The No Ugliness Policy.’ It applies to all areas of our marriage. The No Ugliness Policy is an agreement not to say or do anything intentionally hurtful during any disagreement, argument, or discussion. If one of us breaks the policy we apologize immediately. You should never set out to hurt the person that you love. With Crohn’s, like all other areas of our marriage, we listen to each other and we keep it kind and constructive.
My husband was raised in a household where you didn’t go to the doctor unless something was bleeding profusely and/or was life threatening. If it wasn’t going to kill you, you had to suck it up and go on with your day. My husband is still that way. He once went on a business trip while sick with pneumonia! Obviously, with a chronic illness ‘sucking it up’ just doesn’t work all of the time. Sometimes I have to rest to avoid getting sicker. If I am in an active flare I have no choice but to rest. If I start having symptoms of a flare I have to go to the doctor immediately before it gets bad. It took my husband a while to get used to this. We had to talk about the importance of preventative care (rest, stress reduction, regular doctors appointments), we had to weigh the benefits and risks of all of my treatment options, and at times we have had to make decisions that were financially hard on us because of my health.
The secret to communication isn’t really a secret at all. You have to listen to your partner as much as you talk. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Listening means keeping your mind open to the possibility that you might be wrong. You have to make compromises. For example, my husband’s mother lives very far from us. A few years ago she was going to be just one state over visiting his brother a couple of weeks after I got out of the hospital due to a flare-up. I felt terrible, but my husband doesn’t get to see his mom that often. It would have been selfish of me to not go with him to see his mom. It was hard and I crashed the next day, but I went. My husband has also had to adjust to the fact that when we do something that is physically taxing for me (like a trip or even family get-togethers) I have to crash afterward. Through communication he has learned that chronic pain is exhausting and I can’t just push through it all the time.
My husband is a professional fixer. He is a process improvement engineer to be exact. He has had to learn that no matter how much he wants to, he can’t fix my Crohn’s Disease. I’ve had to learn that he is going to try to fix it for me anyway. It’s his nature. It’s his way of showing that he loves me, but I wouldn’t know that if we didn’t communicate about it. If I didn’t know why he tries so hard to ‘fix’ me I would think that he was angry at me, when he is actually just angry at an illness that he can’t fix for me.
When one spouse has a chronic illness it definitely complicates a marriage, but it doesn’t have to make it worse. It can make it better. Being completely open with my husband about how I’m feeling has at times been uncomfortable for me, but the results have been so worth it. I get mad sometimes that I have to deal with Crohn’s disease while all the other people my age are so healthy. My husband just holds me and lets me cry when I’m mad. He has helped me make important decisions about my treatment when I’ve been too upset to really make the best decision myself. He truly is my partner. I have Crohn’s, but in a way, so does he. I’ve got to say, I sure am glad that I get to face it with an ally who loves me and supports me. I wouldn’t have that if we weren’t so open and honest about our thoughts and feelings.