A severe disability brings changes to your relationship.

The Effects of a Severe Disability on a Marriage

by Shelli Proffitt Howells

On your wedding day, you and your spouse were filled with excitement and expectations of a rosy future together. A sudden disability such as a chronic illness or an injury from a workplace accident can shatter those expectations and force you to face new challenges in your marriage.

Emotional Effects on the Disabled Spouse

It is normal for the person with the disability to go through a grieving process. In addition, she may blame herself for everything that goes wrong in the relationship, according to the “National Study of Women with Physical Disabilities” by Margaret A. Nosek at the Baylor College of Medicine. A wife might believe that having a disability is causing all the problems between her and her partner, often apologizing for events that are not her fault. Many women with disabilities sometimes feel like a burden to their partners.

Emotional Effects on Their Partner

Spouses who are forced into the role of caregiver may experience feelings of guilt, frustration, helplessness and impatience, according to the Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Association of America. They may feel burdened and overwhelmed by their additional responsibilities. They may also feel helpless or guilty because of their inability to make their partner well. Feeling disappointed, impatient and even cheated is perfectly natural. It is important for both of you to talk about your feelings. If you are uncomfortable discussing them with your partner, you can talk to a counselor or clergyman.

Financial Strain

Couples who experience a sudden disability may be faced with a huge financial burden. You may have lost income because the illness made it impossible for the disabled spouse to keep working. You could have increased medical expenses and remodeling fees if your home needs to become wheelchair-accessible, for example. In addition, the caregiver may not be able to leave a job he or she doesn't like because of problems with insurance coverage. A financial planner with expertise in handling chronic medical conditions can offer advice.


Severe disability can have a negative influence on a couple's sex life, according to the article, "Chronic Illness and Sexual Functioning," published in "American Family Physician." Patients with a disability such as a chronic illness may have misconceptions about their ability to have sex or the safety of having sex. They might have body-image concerns or still be grieving losses related to their diagnosis. Depression, fatigue, pain, stress and anxiety may cause additional intimacy problems. Talk to your doctor for reassurance that sex is safe and make adjustments to accommodate the disability. Remember, intimacy is more than sexual intercourse.


Your relationship may suffer if you have to give up a lot of activities that you previously enjoyed together, says Nosek. Survival of the marriage may depend on finding new activities that you can enjoy together. Stay home and watch a movie, learn a new skill or take up a hobby that isn't too demanding. List your interests and those of your spouse and adapt them to your new limitations. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Hire someone to take over the housework and accept friends' offers to run errands for you.

About the Author

Based in Southern California, Shelli Proffitt Howells has written numerous articles about family life, marriage and parenting. She is a member of the American Night Writer's Association. She has a Bachelors of Science in zoology from Brigham Young University, which she has found surprisingly helpful while raising a large family.

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