Q&A: How do we handle life-threatening disease in our marriage?Written by Focus on the Family
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Question: My spouse has just been diagnosed with cancer. Needless to say, the news has sent us reeling. We have the best possible medical care, but there’s one important area in which the doctors can’t help us: how is this crisis going to affect our marriage? What can we do to keep it from destroying our relationship and driving us apart?
You’re wise to raise the question. Medical crises easily become emotional and spiritual crises, and as such they pose a serious challenge to any marriage. If you’re in the midst of a trial like this, we suggest you arm yourselves for the conflict by bearing the following thoughts in mind.
Let go of expectations
First, though you already know it intellectually, you need to remind yourselves constantly that everything is going to be different now. So let go of your expectations. Maybe you had hopes of being a "traditional" family in which the husband is sole provider and the wife and mother is home full-time – only to see this medical crisis change all that. This will almost certainly challenge your faith as well as your marital commitment. Your response as a couple will depend upon your willingness to give up your earlier hopes and dreams and roll with the punches of your present circumstances.
Another way to say this is that you need to become adaptable. You may have to learn new skills in order to cope with the changes brought on by your spouse’s medical condition – everything from using a hypodermic needle to trusting God in ways you’ve never imagined before. Wives who never considered themselves "career women" may have to jump into the job market. Husbands who were once afraid to change a diaper may need to become full-time childcare providers. Whatever the details of your situation, you can be sure of one thing: a medical crisis requires compromise and sacrifice for the sake of the patient and other family members.
Count your blessings
As you navigate these difficult waters, don’t forget to count your blessings. Ask yourselves, "In the midst of all that’s happened, what can we be truly grateful for?" If you look hard enough, you’ll discover that there’s always something. So make it your aim to find new ways of enjoying life and serving others together. Just keeping your family together at a time like this is an accomplishment that can give you a deep sense of satisfaction.
Meanwhile, difficult as it may be to find the time, make an intentional effort to nurture your faith. Believe that God is in charge and that He loves you no matter what happens. This will help provide you with the resolve you need in order to endure what you’re forced to accept. You may find that your confidence in the Lord will grow deeper and stronger as you wrestle with the implications of your situation. Christians down through the ages have testified that a crisis is a good time to reveal and deal with doubts – not to sweep them under the rug.
Reach out for help
Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help. There will be many times during your medical crisis when wise counsel and prayer support from pastors and friends will be a literal life-saver. Sometimes your need will be as simple as a meal or a listening ear. At other times you may require advice regarding medical or legal decisions. Ask a friend to help you "network" at church and in your community to locate useful resources. If you think it might be helpful to spend some time with a registered Christian therapist, don’t hesitate to give Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department a call. We can provide you with a list of professionals practicing in your area, and our staff counsellors would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. They’re available to speak with you Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800.
One last thought. Perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face is that of finding some kind of meaning in this medical crisis. When you’re struggling with doubts of this nature, you may find some inspiration and encouragement in the words of Philippians 2:12-13: ". . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." Even a seeming disaster can be used for good and for the achieving of the Lord’s ultimate purposes in our lives.
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