I recently read an article that stated the current divorce rates are 55%. For those with a chronic illness it increases to 75%. I have not found a study specifically for those of us with Pituitary Tumors or that are Hypopituitary but I would have to assume we are in the 75% category. A study completed in 2004 found that 1 in 2 Americans has a chronic condition. This could be anything from Cancer, to Arthritis, migraines or extreme back pain. That same study also estimates an increase in chronic illnesses of 1% per year to the year 2030. If my math is correct that would mean that 50% plus another 16 years is 66% of people will have a chronic condition. Will that mean our divorce rates will jump to 91%?
I’m not gonna lie, I was in shock at the number even though I am currently going through the separation/divorce process. That is 3 out of every 4! When people get married, they hope that it is forever and the old words “in sickness and in health, till death do you part” come into my mind. They should change the vows to “Only in Health, until sickness do you part”!
The problem I see from talking with so many Pit Tumor/Hypopit patients is some of them had obvious symptoms that effected their lives and relationships that they noticed right away but could not get a diagnosis. Or the others where the tumor grew so gradually that the changes came without notice. We attributed our pains and inability to function “normally” or as we used to as getting older until it became debilitating to some extreme. In my case it came on gradually with a slow growing tumor. I know of at least six years of misdiagnosis but really have no idea how many things were affected in me before that time. What I hear for other patients is the minimization and disregard from partners, family, friends and coworkers for the condition. Whether they believe we are faking the illness or exaggerating the symptoms for sympathy. Yes there are those with tumors that will never know they have one so they have no symptoms. Yes some will be found and cured. Yes some people will do well on medication and live a full life. But there is a large amount of us that struggled to recover. There are those that are still fighting, and some that will never fully recover. Same is true for many other debilitating diseases so don’t minimize our illness.
The fact is; being seriously ill impairs our ability to do the things we used to do as a couple. Feelings like guilt, anger and the accompanying miscommunication then follow. When you lose your social and sexual partner as a result of a disability, it has a huge impact. There’s a whole psychological layer. When you get married, it’s not to be somebody’s nurse, and then suddenly, you are somebody’s nurse. Financial problems only make the situation more difficult. A dual income home can quickly become a single or the higher income earner can longer support the family. There are also the cost of healthcare as it rises, medication costs, increasing the tension at home and can further impact a relationship and push it over the edge.
I once discussed this with a wife of a chronically ill friend. The truth was she knew she was being unfair, but she was lost, tired and burned out. She knew her husband was not to blame, but she didn’t know where else to direct her fear, anger and resentment. So it unfortunately goes in the direction of the one person they used to know but don’t understand anymore. They see the shell of the person they used to love. The strength they used to admire in their partner is no longer visible.
One of the stories I also heard was a couple where the wife became completely debilitated due to her illness. The husband did everything he could but because they had no insurance there came a point that he could no longer afford the care she needed. He had to divorce her in order for the state to have to take over her care and he could survive financially.
So that means married people, like myself, diagnosed with a serious health condition may find themselves struggling with the impact of their disease while also experiencing the stress of separation and divorce, and financial implications that come with it. Studies have found that women are doubly vulnerable to the end of a relationship in the face of illness. Not only is divorce more common when women get sick, but women are also more likely to watch their husbands die first of a serious illness before divorce. There are two theories to this; gender norms and social expectations about care giving may make it more difficult for men to provide care to ill spouses, and divorced men have more choices among prospective partners than divorced women. But another article stated more of these divorces are initialized by women. What they found was when women become ill, and their husbands are not doing a very good job caring for them, they would rather that he just go it alone and they rely on friends and family who will take care of them.
A growing number of articles are now being written about the role social media is playing in divorce but not specifically those with chronic illnesses. However, many of us with chronic illnesses find ourselves searching for cures, ways to help deal with symptoms and more often…other people with our illnesses that may understand how we feel and what we are going through. There are Facebook and support groups where we can find that sympathy and support we may not be getting at home. So our feelings are put out to strangers and we are vindicated. We consider these connections friends and share personal thoughts with them instead of our loved ones that we get tired of explaining things to. We start to value our worth based on followers, comments and messages and what we do to help others with our illness. Unfortunately many drift away from the emotional and mental connections we have with the person or people right in front of us. I truly understand the need for these connections. Would it not be better for us to dedicate and invest more time to teaching our family, friends and the public about our illness so future patients do not have to deal with the same stigma?
Now… in reference to the quote header that I posted with this blog; “Some individuals who claim never to have felt romantic love suffer from Hypopituitarism, a rare disease that doesn’t allow the person the feel the rapture of love.” The quote refers to information in a book by John Money (1980) Love and Love Sickness: the Science of Sex, Gender Difference, and Pair-Bonding. I will be totally honest and say I have not read this book yet but agree this could be possible if Hypopituitarism goes untreated. I have seen this quote before and have heard from patients that do find issues with social anxieties, bonding, making new friends and keeping existing relationships. There have been discussions that these may be caused by a possible Oxytocin deficiency, or deficiencies of Beta Endorphins. Both of these are not given to us in medical replacements even though they are linked to pituitary dysfunction (along with the estrogen and testosterone which we do replace). This post is not to debate those, only to suggest more studies certainly need to be done to find out if there is a link. Could these hormones be linked to why our relationships fail? We all know in regular marriages the effects hormones can have. Just look at menopause and what they call a mans menopause the “Mid Life Crisis”! Both are hormone related.
I wish there was an answer. I wish I could snap my fingers and change the reality of the marriage and relationship world today. What I do want is you, the patient, to remember that you have value. Do not let your condition become who you are. Look in the mirror now and say “I am (insert your name), I am not my illness”. I am one of the lucky ones where my illness is close to being under control now. Even though I am going through a divorce, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for me. I have been dating and know there will be someone out there that will love the person that I am on the inside.
The same inside where my chronic illness lives.