How Lupus Indirectly Caused My Divorce

"In sickness and in more sickness," my then-fiance and I joked in the months leading up to our wedding ceremony. We had dated 7 years before getting engaged. Three of those I had spent living with lupus.

My husband once described our marriage as a union of 3 people. "There's you, there's me, and there's lupus," he told me once. I remember feeling grateful that he saw me as separate from my illness – that the hours I spent lying in bed or on the couch weren't the product of my own inherent laziness, but the annoying influence of a force that had wedged its way into our life.

Lupus brain inflammation

Two years into our marriage, a severe brain inflammation flare sent me to bed for nearly a year. First, I forgot how to walk. Hallucinations exploded across the ceiling as I babbled nonsense. I forgot the names of my medications, what my favorite color was, and much of my past. I forgot how to be the person my husband had fallen in love with.

Dinner dates, shared TV shows, and simple conversations about our day were stolen from my husband and me overnight, replaced with doctor's appointments, pharmacy runs, and whispered conversations with relatives about my condition. Lupus became the most dominant entity in our relationship for many months.

Studies show that chronic illness can increase the likelihood of divorce by up to 75 percent, particularly when the chronically ill person is female. (Time article). Mine was one of many marriages in which a disease took over.

Recovering from my lupus flare

After spending nearly a year bedridden, I slowly relearned how to walk, talk, and function as an adult again. I returned to being the person my husband had married. Lupus, while still the third party in our marriage, faded the way a wound fades to a scar. I eventually recovered from my brain inflammation flare – but my husband never did.

As I grew stronger, my husband's behavior became impulsive and erratic. A string of his bad decisions threatened to wreck our marriage. His infidelity, reckless spending, and drastic mood changes made me afraid to be around him. In the same way that my brain inflammation had made me a different person, the trauma of my illness reshaped my husband's personality into someone I didn't recognize.

As I relearned to walk, I also learned to disappear to the back of the house when my husband returned from work – that heavy footsteps meant he would scream at me as I sat on the couch, my legs still too weak to run. I learned the hours of all the Starbucks stores near me so that I could stay there until my husband went to bed. I learned that marriage counseling will never work when one party isn't truthful with the counselor.

Looking back at my relationship

After my separation from my husband, my rheumatologist remarked at an appointment that many of her patients' health drastically improved after they left marriages that were no longer working. I've found this to be true in my own life. In the 2 years I remained married after brain inflammation, the stress of living with my husband's unpredictable moods and poor choices triggered my disease, threatening to drag me back into another life-threatening flare.

Having lived as a single woman for 8 years, I look back on my marriage with no feelings of regret. My marriage was filled with many happy moments. But I learned a valuable lesson that I will always remember: a relationship has stopped being healthy when I'm forced to choose between the relationship and my health.

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