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Perspectives on Marriage with Critically Ill Children

Marriage is already a complicated and often tense subject. Add into that the stresses of caring for a child with a critical illness. This week for our community question, we asked how parents have made it through these circumstances with or without divorce and their advice to others.

Our original Facebook post asked: “We've seen some unverified statistics that say the odds of a marriage ending in divorce when the parents have a sick child are as high as 90%. For those of you who have beat the odds, what tips do you have to help other couples get through this difficult time?

Learning from Sacrifice and Stress in a Marriage

A commonality we noticed in responses to the above question was how varied the experience of parents can be when they are faced with the pain of a sick child. There are many factors that go into a relationship while balancing childcare.  

What are the emotions when marriage with a partner does not go as planned and what is learned from the experience?

“Unfortunately, my ex-wife and I were part of that larger group (we were told 80%). We both dealt with our son’s illness in different extreme ways without leaning on one another like we should have. We both made mistakes that resulted in our marriage failing. However, she’s the best mom to our son, and everything she has sacrificed (and continues to sacrifice) continues to awe me. We may not be married, but I will always have a sense of love and respect for her for everything she does for our son, especially when life’s circumstances has me three states away unable to see him as often as I want …” –Joshua P.

The other side of the coin is when things do somehow manage to work out, yet the relationship is still impacted by years of struggle.

“Communicate. Validate one another’s feelings, even if you feel differently. If in the middle of an extended hospital stay, give each other time to take turns getting out; being cramped in that small space on top of each other for extended periods can really be difficult for a while. My husband and I used to be really bad about getting mean to one another when in a stressful situation but the 2 years our son was severely ill and hospitalized constantly before he got his transplant really actually worked to improve our relationship and taught us the proper way to communicate and handle stress together as a team instead of dividing us. They say these things make or break a relationship and that is so true, we were very lucky that it brought us much closer and taught us so much about each other and how to improve.” –Joan F.

Strategies for Understanding

Many comments gave specific advice for what to do if you’re in the middle of balancing a relationship with hospital visits, siblings and unpredictable external factors. Some suggested little things as simple as giving yourself the space to go on a date. Others brought up keeping your sense of humor and figuring out how to forgive.

“Keep dating each other even if you can’t leave the house or hospital. Make sure you talk, pray together, hold hands, cry and laugh together. Find humor even when there’s heartache. Choose to find joy even when it seems impossible. We’ve been married over 20 years and have 3 out of 5 kids sick, 2 of which are on palliative care now. It’s tough but together possible.” –Kristin J.

“Communicate, forgive and go on dates. These three things sound easy but when you are a parent of a sick child, you know they are not. Never try and talk when you are emotional. If someone needs to walk away from the conversation, it is okay … you can pick it up again when everyone has calmed down. You should forgive. People say stupid things when they aren’t sure what to say … forgive them. Leaving … to go on a date sounds selfish but that little rest will rejuvenate you. Our son did pass away, which made these three things even more important. We are now celebrating 32 years." –Renee G.K.

“For my husband and me, we worked as a team. He stayed in the hospital with our son and I traveled back and forth since we had 3 other children at home (two of which were under 2 years old). When I would get to the hospital, he would go get coffee and take a much needed break. Another very important thing was that we NEVER lost our sense of humor. Let’s face it, having a sick child often goes from the ridiculous to the absurd and finding humor in a bad situation helps A LOT! Our family motto is, “If you can laugh at it, you can live through it.” We’ve been married for over 28 years and our son has been cancer free since 2000.” –Maureen B.W.

For more advice from the Make-A-Wish community, read our posts on helping kids cope with their sibling's hospital stay and what to say and do for a parent of a critically ill child

Header Image Credit: "love" by JOHNNY LAI is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / cropped and resized 

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