Before marriage, I was seemingly healthy. It was obvious to me that stress played a huge part in my overall health when within a couple of days of my wedding day, I was physically sick. We all just chalked it up to “wedding day stress” and I was better for the honeymoon weeks later.
It wasn’t until I became pregnant, that I felt the effects of constant stress on my body. I was so physically sick that I was hospitalized for dehydration and hyperemesis gravidarum. But it wasn’t the pregnancy that was causing all the stress, it was the other woman that was invited into my marriage.
Whether chronic illness takes a toll on an already abusive marriage or if the illness was caused by a stressful environment, we need to take a serious look at this connection.
Although I’ve been unable to find the actual statistics, I’ve read in countless places that in marriages where one partner is chronically ill, the marriage ends 75% of the time. That may seem very high but from what I’ve seen that is pretty accurate.
Women who have experienced domestic violence are up to 2x more likely to suffer from chronic conditions like headaches and depression. (Source)
During my divorce, I was in many abuse and divorce groups on Facebook. At the time, these were the only people I knew that were going through a divorce for similar reasons to mine. Several times in these groups someone would ask how many women were healthy before marriage but left living with an autoimmune disorder, asthma, migraines, fibromyalgia, or other chronic disorders. That thread would usually be the busiest thread in the entire group with hundreds of responses to the initial question.
81% of women who said they have experienced domestic violence have a chronic health condition. (Source)
There have been lots of studies on the effects of abuse on the victim in a marriage. Just do a quick search of “domestic violence chronic illness.” I included some of the scholarly research, found in clinical publications, in my final presentation for my bachelor’s degree a few years ago.
Genetics, Environmental Causes, or Both?
The body wasn’t designed to withstand so much stress. That’s why we experience physical pain when faced with emotional pain, even in a normal divorce. Add in abuse (physical, emotional, psychological, financial, or sexual)… and that’s a cocktail for chronic illness.
When faced with a physical or psychological threat, your body reacts with a “fight or flight” reaction to enable you to fight back or run away from the danger with cortisol hormones. While these hormones help in the short-term, they can hurt your body when produced for longer periods. For example, since cortisol affects blood sugar and heart rate, chronic stress is linked to gastrointestinal conditions, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.
Another possible explanation is telomeres, the caps on the end of our DNA that become shorter as we age. Several studies have found that people who are under chronic stress tend to lose the length of their telomeres more rapidly, meaning the stress is permanently aging cells. This suggests a possible explanation for why women under the stress of abusive relationship may suffer diseases like arthritis that typically affect women who are much older. (Source)
I was born with a couple of genetic disorders. My doctors said that if my life had been less stressful I may not have ever experienced any symptoms of these disorders. Many people live their entire life with a brain herniation and never know it. I wasn’t one of them.
I also have no family history of Lupus, that I know of, yet I was diagnosed with it in December 2012. Who knows why I have this chronic illness or how I’ve gotten it?! But the fact of the matter is now I have to live with Lupus for the rest of my life. Some days are worse than others. And I’m able to survive because of the things I do to help myself. And because of the people who care enough about me to help.
Tips for surviving divorce with a chronic illness.
Tell your lawyer.
They really need to know everything that you’re dealing with. And they need to understand how to assist you through the divorce process. If you have a rare illness then share with him/her the fact sheets, so they understand how you’re feeling and the treatments you’re facing. This may also be a deciding factor in alimony or child support, so they need to know from the beginning so they can get you everything that you need after the divorce is final.
Take good care of yourself.
Self-care is especially needed if you’re trying to survive a divorce with a chronic illness. This also means not skipping your needed medications or doctor’s appointments. Remember, you’ll need your body after this divorce is over, so don’t neglect it now.
And I can relate to feeling worried about what life may be like without health insurance. Definitely, discuss that with your lawyer, and find out what all of your options are before making any final decisions. Make sure you’re planning for the future, especially after a divorce.
Ask for help. Or find your support system.
It can be so hard to ask for help, even without a chronic illness. But I just remind myself that all gifts, blessings, and help comes from the Lord. He does care! And He sends caring people to help. Furthermore, oftentimes others feel just as blessed when helping someone in need that getting help. When we don’t ask we could be denying someone who would be able to share their gifts and care for us. Not allowing others to help, is selfish. Be humble, ask, and take help when it’s offered.
Create systems that assist you in life.
This often means more time to rest or at least less stress about everyday life. I used printable sheets like I’ve shared in the Divorced Mom’s Complete Tool Kit bundle, to get my kids to help me around the house. The (laminated) “contribution sheet” was posted on the refrigerator to tell my children what they need to do, so I didn’t have to assign them tasks each day or even each week. They just had to do it and check it off.
These days, I utilize the Walmart Grocery Pickup [Never tried it? Sign up and save $10 on a $50 order] and Shipt Grocery Delivery services so I don’t have to walk the stores, which tires me quickly. I usually shop once or twice a month instead of weekly, saving me days to do other things, like coaching clients or writing.
It’s really just about knowing your limits and not pushing yourself when you can use assistance from other people or services. Find what helps and then use it, without shame! It’s what’s best for you.
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Can you relate? Were you relatively healthy before marriage and then saw a decline? Feel free to share your story below. (You do not have to use your real name.)
What tips to do you have to survive a divorce with a chronic illness?
God bless your healing journey,
In seeking help for my pain, I found a great massage therapist nearby. She’s helped me get rid of that giant spear between my shoulder blades and ease that ache in my jaw from clenching my teeth. She’s a divorce survivor, too, so she knows!
Jen Grice says
Yes, great advice, Cathy. Thank you! I used to use massage therapy for my back pain. I need to get myself a few sessions and get going again, for stress and pain relief.
Hi Jen! After my divorce was final, I began having severe migraines & pre-menopausal problems. Also began having thyroid issues and was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s which is an autoimmune disease. I never realized what stress I was under until after it was over! Stress was an everyday occurrence….but what a toll it took on my body. My life is relatively stress free now but any hint of stress my body cannot handle it.
My advice would be to live one day at a time & lots of praying!
Jen Grice says
Great advice. And I agree! I need to stay away from stress as much as possible to keep myself healthy. Not everyone understands but that’s okay, they’re not walking in my shoes. We all have to do what is best for our own lives. Love having you along on this journey. You’re such a great encouragement! Glad you’re doing well and staying healthy!
Jen.. thank you for sharing your experience with your own health problems. In recent years I have begun to suffer from severe and chronic tendonitis in different joints. Recently I’ve had a number of surgeries to try to correct it and it just keeps coming back. I’m so glad you’re educating the rest of us to the fact that cortisol and other stress hormones overtime really do damage your physical body. I for one have frequent massages this really helps and most recently came into some extra money so I will be using it to purchase a massage chair which is a great way to get the best ever massage next to an actual Hands-On massage. I’m also learning that when I feel overwhelmed by stress or anxiety usually caused by his gaslighting to just take 30 minutes if I can and go lay down and either listen to soothing music or spend time reading some of my favorite scriptures reminding myself that God is for me and that I will get through this upcoming divorce. Again thank you so much for sharing and educating the rest of us.
Jen Grice says
You’re welcome! I like your advice of laying down and listening to music or reading. Very smart. Thank you for sharing! God will see you through. Glad to have you along on this journey to healing.
I so appreciate and identify with your article on autoimmune disease. Thank you for sharing that. I do believe this is not just coincidence. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis several yrs ago. This disease has been debilitating. I was told I’m too nervous…too anxious. Go on anti depressants. But nobody understands the abuse I have suffered for 21 yrs with my narcissist husband. I finally divorced him less than a year ago. I was hoping my condition wd improve, but it hasn’t. But like you explained Jen, this is a long difficult journey (recovering fm not only divorce, but abuse) and it will take time. I am praying that god will lead me to the right doctors and treatment for healing. Nobody understands this type of chronic illness. It is a very lonely and isolating disease. It is embarrassing to talk about. Bowel movements, bleeding fm the rectum, enemas..etc. I don’t want to come off as a complainer, so I don’t say much about my condition.
I rest a lot work my heating pad and read your articles and listen to your videos. Thank you Jen. You keep me pressing on and encouraged.
I recently ordered your book. I am completely blown away! I am going to write an incredible review on it. Every single word is spot on! I identify with everything you write. You back up all your writings with scripture, which I love. It helps me to know what verses to mediate on.
I cannot say enough about how this little book is helping me. I’m taking my time, reading it slowly…highlighting and underlining…lol.
This is by far, THE BEST BOOK FOR CHRISTIAN WOMEN STRUGGLING THROUGH DIVORCE.
Thank you Jen, for all of your time and dedication you put into writing this book. Pls know you are helping so many of us hurting women in the body of Christ. ❤️?
Jen Grice says
Rose, You’re very welcome! And thank you for your kind words about my book and everything I do. It is definitely all Spirit-led. And most days I’m very thankful God has put me where He has. Encouragement like yours keeps me going. Thank you! And so glad to have you along on this journey to healing after divorce!! 🙂
In the course of my 28 years of marriage to an emotionally abusive man, I gained 130#, had recurrent sinus infections, recurrent migraines, adrenal fatigue, 3 surgeries, became allergic to almost all foods, and the final blow was fibromyalgia. My mom said she just wanted her happy daughter back again. I just want my health.
Jen Grice says
I hear you, Donna. I want my health back too because only someone who has been through this, like us, understands all that this put our bodies through. Prayers for God’s healing!
Yes, My health got worse over the course of my 18 year marriage. I have now been divorced legally for two years. The worst of my autoimmune disease hit me about four months ago. Tremendous fatigue. I now know, that even though I was divorced on paper, I never really let go and still lived as though I had a husband, when I didn’t. I took all of the anger and started a ridiculous remodel on my home, doing much of the physical work myself, with friends and of course contractors. What was I thinking, I would ask myself. I was so angry at him for bailing on me and leaving me with a house that was falling apart and all of the financial responsibility. It was representative of our failed relationship and I couldn’t live like that anymore. I just wanted order in my life. I thought I would feel better if I could get the repairs done. I now have them done, but then I crashed physically, and I don’t feel better. Its scary. I have never been this sick. I am going through therapy and I am still grieving the loss and working through that. So the lesson is, you can’t busy your way around the grief. You have to deal with it, let it come. I am cycling this grief and hope with God’s grace and the help of the therapist, that I will heal my heart and my body. I’m still not there.
Jen Grice says
Thank you for sharing your struggle and so much truth, Kimberly. When we try to keep busy to avoid the pain and grief we don’t get rid of it. It’s still there just waiting for us to get through it. I’m happy you have a healing helper! And glad to have you along on this journey to restoration.
Kathy B. says
Hi Jen, again what an unbelievable coincidence. I had a CT of my head about 6 years ago for debilitating headaches and they found a small herniation in the cerebellum. I went to a very arrogant neurologist who told me it was so small it couldn’t possibly be causing my symptoms. I reluctantly took his word for it but you have inspired me to get a 2nd opinion because my headaches are just as bad now even though I am divorced. Although recovering from my one serious boyfriend’s cheating has been traumatizing all over again.
I know God loves me, I feel it every day, and I am blessed in many ways. But you are right our bodies have suffered too. Many thanks Jen for sharing, Kathy
Jen Grice says
Wow, Kathy, that’s horrible. I haven’t had much luck with Neurologists or Neurosurgeons either but I love my Rheumatologists who know that my brain herniation could be causing some symptoms, like headaches caused by intracranial pressure (especially when it’s humid or other weather changes). You’re welcome. I really hope you find the right doctors with the treatment plan that works best for you and your symptoms. I always say do not give up looking for the right doctors. It took me lots of years but glad I didn’t give up.
I went into marriage with a chronic illness already in place, fibromyalgia. Which I can trace back to nine and ten years old. Runs in my family, sadly.
It definitely got worse. I also have endometriosis and it got worse as well. I was so stressed out I didn’t have a period for about five months and was scared to death I was pregnant. Thank God (truly!) I wasn’t. I did NOT want to have that mans’ baby and be tied to him for the rest of my life, or expose a child to that kind of horrible excuse for a human being.
Jen Grice says
Glad to walk with you as you start this new and better chapter of your life. Welcome to the community of survivors and thrivers.
Jen, I appreciate your blog. I have been struggling with chronic illness my entire marriage and I believe the covert, subtle psychological abuse has been a main instigator in why I’ve become so sick. I am ready to begin finding out how to go about divorce, but I am TERRIFIED that I will not be able to make it on my own financially. I only make a small income from the work I do from home. I can’t do a lot of “normal jobs” due to health. I know you will probably understand and relate about being ill. I need someone who can help me figure out the practical stuff. Like even knowing where to start on figuring out if I can survive if I leave. I feel so lost. I want to get well and be free from abuse. Is this something you can provide guidance on through coaching? Blessings.
Jen Grice says
Hi April, yes my coaching is for women who want to know how to survive a divorce and thrive after. I’ve talked to many women (who live in the United States) who are still married but need help figuring out how to escape.
Please do not cite unsubstantiated statistics as factual evidence, “Although I’ve been unable to find the actual statistics, I’ve read in countless places that in marriages where one partner is chronically ill, the marriage ends 75% of the time. That may seem very high but from what I’ve seen that is pretty accurate.” This claim is untrue, unvalidated, and perpetuates the false narrative and fear around chronic illness and divorce.
Jen Grice says
Erin, Until someone gives me substantiated information otherwise, I stand by exactly what I said and how I said it and I will not change it because someone I don’t even know told me to. I’m not perpetuating any false narrative when I get emails every single week, most of which include women with cancer, heart problems, chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, and more. I’d say I hear about some illness in women going through a divorce 75% of the time. Furthermore, all of these websites show exactly what I said. Are you contacting them as well to change their wording? Or just bullying me because I’m a small guy in the big online pond?
Time Magazine: https://time.com/83486/divorce-is-more-likely-if-the-wife-not-the-husband-gets-sick/
Focus on the Family: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/chronic-illness-in-marriage/
I also find this study very compelling and coordinates with what I said throughout my article. “Small clinical studies have found a larger risk of divorce when wives become ill than when husbands do.”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4857885/
Jackie D. says
Great article! Thanks!