This post has been on my heart for a really long time. It is very near to my heart as I have been there and those were very difficult days for me that I so thankful to no longer be living in the situation.
I heard a couple of years ago about a friend of mine whose wife left him. I heard the information from one of his family members and of course they were upset with the my friend's wife (and rightfully so). However, my first silent thought was that I could understand how the situation could happen. See my friend has a disability and they had been living with this for years. I can understand why she might have left him. Now please bear in mind that understanding and condoning are two entirely different things. I am not saying she should have left or that it was right, on the contrary it was wrong and sinful. She did not have a biblical reason to leave. Her marriage vow in fact obligated her to stay.
However, as someone who was a wife of a disabled man I can understand why she might have left. In fact I almost left my husband once during his years of disability because I was so tired and burnt out. If it hadn't been for a good friend that I worked with at the time I probably would have left and would have regretted it. I remember that day so clearly. I had a baby, had a toddler, a disabled husband, lived two states away from family, and had little support. Now I do not want to be too hard on those around us. We needed a lot of help for a long period of time and there is a tendency to burn out sometimes when it comes to being there for a friend who was in my situation. The day I almost left my husband I woke up after once again only about 3 hours of sleep (my nightly average at the time) and I was soooo tired I did not think I could go on anymore. Someone had taken advantage of my husband due to his disability and left us deeply in debt. So I was working A LOT in a career with high emotional demands. Then add to that the myriad of doctor appointments, the higher demands of a spouse with a disability, and the demands of 2 children ages 2 and under. I almost walked away from it all. Truly that was not what I wanted to do, but I was truly at a point where I did not have anymore to give to anyone. Some would say that I should have just looked to the Lord for more strength. However, discouragement had set in and when I had my time with the Lord I could not seem to find any peace or encouragement anymore. It was then that I needed a Christian friend to point me to some scripture, to pray with me, and offer to take my family grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon so I could take a nap or clean my really dirty house. Those days were so dark and lonely. That morning I knew enough to know that I would regret my choice to leave, but did not have anything left in me to do it anymore. So I talked to my supervisor at work whom was also almost the only friend I felt like I had at the time and asked him to talk me out of it. He did. I stayed. I am so glad that I did. I am so glad that I honored my vow to my husband, but most importantly to God.
So even though I do not condone this woman leaving her husband, I do understand. I think many times we need to be more understanding in the church about situations like this. As I look back I think that I actually had more friends willing to be supportive, but they did not know how or what to do. Also, keep in mind this coming statement is purely my opinion, I think that many marriages that break up when one spouse become disabled could have been saved with more and better support from the Body of Christ. The Lord delivered my husband from his disability so I believe that puts me in a place of responsibility to help others. I want to share with you five ways to be a support to wife of a disabled husband, but it will be of the course of 2 posts.
One of the first and most important things is to not judge. Don't tell her that she should be doing any more than she is doing. One time a family member came to visit from out of town and told me that if I would put some elbow grease into a particular household task then it would get done. Another church member told me that if I would just pray more. I could go on and on with judgmental comments that I received during those days. Don't judge the person. Instead I would suggest offering words of support and offer to help them. If someone had come to me and said " I see how hard you are working, you must really love your family. You must be tired can I help by taking your family grocery shopping so you can take a break." or "I know you are the only driver in the family and are working two jobs so please let me drive your husband to a doctor appointment." or "I know your husband has to be downtown for a doctor appointment at the same time your son needs to be at a doctor appointment in the suburb and you were not able to get more time off work to reschedule an appointment. Let me help you with some transportation." It would have been very helpful to me.. See early into this life's season I had been told no when I asked for help so I quit asking. Also I did not want to be a burden on anyone either. I knew that what my family needed was a lot and I did not want to burden anyone. The wife of someone with a disability may not ask for help after a while because she has heard no so many times and been told judgmental things and does not want to be hurt anymore.
The second thing you can do is offer a listening ear, friendship, and may be some tea, coffee, along with some chocolate (chocolate always helps). This woman feels horribly guilty for all she can not do for her family. She also likely feels alone-- I can not stress that enough. The loneliest time in my life was when my husband was sick. She has so much to do that she is not going to ask you for this time and remember she has already had so many careless things said to her. Remember that likely her heart is broken. When we take our marriage vows lets face it we have no idea what we are committing to. I had no idea when I said "in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer" how those were going to be tested in our marriage. We tend to think of all the good times we will have when we get married-- not the bad ones. So when this couple walked down the aisle they had dreams of good, happy times. Her heart is broken. Let her have a chance to talk about it. Also she will likely be questioning God and experiencing certain doubts. I know I did. Give her a chance to talk about these things. Let her talk it out and offer her LOVING encouragement through Scripture. That is what she needs. She does a good enough job of being critical of herself for having these thoughts and doubts. So be a friend and listen.