Restoring Balance: Relationships and Illness, Part II

A woman pushes her husband in a wheel-chair.The Restoring Balance series is designed to inspire and equip you with the very best tools, techniques, and tips for communicating your way back into balance. This is the second article in the two-part series.

Last month, I wrote about the need to be honest and vulnerable with your feelings. Hopefully you spent some time asking each other some tough questions. Maybe you suspected your partner has certain feelings around an issue related to your chronic illness and they were confirmed. Or perhaps you were caught off-guard and surprised at his/her answers to other questions.

Whatever the outcome, it is my hope that your eyes were opened to how you feel about your illness and each other. Maybe a new closeness and intimacy emerged as a result of your conversation. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems that still need solving, or issues that need further discussion. What it does mean is that you now know where you stand with one another. Perhaps you’re even motivated to make some rather big changes in light of your conversation.

Well-functioning couples are characterized, not by an absence of problems, but by their joint problem-solving ability.

Does “joint problem-solving ability” sound too pie-in-the-sky for you? That need not be the case. It’s really only a fancy phrase for compromise and planning.

Look back over your answers to the questions from last week. Was there one issue, in particular, in which you both agreed needs to have immediate attention? Choose whatever issue will make the biggest impact on your marriage.

Suppose you asked your partner, Are there issues related to my illness that you think about to yourself, but do not openly discuss? What issues? Why do you keep them to yourself?”

As an example, let’s say a man is working with his wife on concerns about her Fibromyalgia.  After hemming and hawing a bit, he responds that there are indeed several issues related to her illness and their joint desire to start a family. He goes on to list his concerns:

  • What if being pregnant makes your Fibromyalgia worse?
  • What if you have a difficult pregnancy?
  • What if you are unable to work during your pregnancy? How will we get by, financially?
  • What if you are unable to care for the baby after you give birth? Will we have to hire a nanny, and how will we afford it?
  • What if you end up having to quit your job because the combination of parenting and work makes your Fibromyalgia worse?
  • I haven’t shared these feelings with you because I know how much you want a child and I don’t want my fears to get in the way of your dream.

Now you’ve got some tangible issues to tackle, don’t you?

Before you go a step further, let me add one word of caution. It would be really easy, at this point, to become defensive and angry with your spouse for bringing up all these concerns/obstacles. Please resist this temptation. Instead, thank him/her for being honest, and begin the joint-problem solving process below:

Step 1: Each person retreat to a quiet place and brainstorm potential solutions to the concerns. If you find your emotions getting in the way, depersonalize your situation by pretending to come up with solutions for a couple in similar circumstances.

Step 2: Come back together and discuss your respective solutions. Are there similar solutions that you both came up with? Are there others you hadn’t considered? The key here is to narrow down the potential solutions you think might work for you.

Step 3: Ask yourselves, “what action do we need to take to confirm that these solutions are viable for us?” Your list of action steps may look something like this:

  • Contact 3-5 other couples where one partner has Fibromyalgia and find out how they managed their pregnancies and what challenges they face in parenting.
  • Meet with 2-3 doctors to get their opinion on pregnancy and Fibromyalgia.
  • Research whether part-time or work-from-home options are available to new mothers at your place of employment.

Now you’re getting somewhere! Divide the list of action steps between you and your partner and move forward. Whatever the outcome, you can feel good knowing that you are working proactively, as a team, towards something you both desire very much.

One last thought, you don’t have to wait until you are in crisis or at a point in your relationship where communication has broken down because of resentment or fear of hurting one another.

Just like individuals, marriages go through transitions/stages when big life decisions must be made. These transitions include being newly married, deciding whether or not to have children, parenting, focusing on careers, midlife changes of various kinds, becoming empty-nesters, and retirement, and issues around aging.

Since chronic illness will affect each of these transitions in significant ways, a great question to periodically ask yourselves is:

What is the next big transition or stage in our relationship and how will we incorporate the _____________ (fill in name of chronic illness)?

Couples that can incorporate chronic illness into their transitions in a hopeful yet realistic manner, stand the best chance for a satisfying AND balanced relationship.

© Copyright 2011 by Helena Madsen, MA, therapist in Gilberts, Illinois. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • cisse


    February 1st, 2011 at 2:30 AM

    its funny how almost all the couples have problems although it may be due to a reason as simple as lack of communication…and not just communication but proper and effective communication…

    with the rates of divorce only headed north,it would not be a far-fetched idea to actually make pre-marital counselling compulsory for everyone…!

  • Bethany


    February 1st, 2011 at 5:38 AM

    Being honest with your partner, if he or she is willing to do that for you too, should not make the relationship feel unbablanced but rather it should bring you more together in sync.

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