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How do you feel about a spouse leaving or cheating on their partner when they are diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness?

By Expert HERWriter March 3, 2018 - 12:00am
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sick spouse cheating

I would love to hear what you think about spouses who pull away, cheat and/or divorce their partner because of a serious or terminal illness …. Or if they’ve become disfigured.

Has this happened to someone you know?

It’s a subject that needs to be discussed.

I have very strong feelings on this subject and will blog on this topic in the next few days. But, would love to hear what your views.

Best in health,


BTW, here is another great thread on sick spouse you can follow on EmpowHER.

Add a Comment38 Comments

Thank you Pat and Diane for your comments and questions. Honestly, it feels very strange to be able to talk about this and not have people judge me or frankly, just not want to know what I really go through each day. Like I said earlier I am still learning how to balance things and make time or steal time for myself. It is a constant cycle and I don't think that will ever change.

Recently I have been feeling scared and overwhelmed of the fact that I could be doing this for the next 30 years. That combined with his occasional outbursts (at the MS..., but it still feels like it is at me) and our kids growing up, I wonder if I am doing right by myself and by our children by keeping the family unit together. Where do we draw the line....? I have had too much of a taste of normalcy with my 'out of family' excursions, and I can't imagine living this life for another 30 years. I have begun thinking that a 2 year plan might be in order. During these two years, I need to evaluate things at every level, try to engage him in real conversation and decide what it is exactly that I want - in order to remain here. I need to plan, however, as if I may not stay, which means saving money for a departure at some point and developing a plan that we can communicate on, focus on kids, etc and develop a plan for his long-term care.... This has given me some focus and something to hold on to, to grasp for the future... even if I don't have any clear answers for the time at the end of these two years yet.
After some wine one evening and some careful sharing with one of my best friends, I shared with her my thoughts on the two years. She is aware of our situation better than anyone I think and she also knows about my excursions. While she has been very supportive of me having friendships outside our marriage, she really freaked out at the idea of me bailing on this marriage at any point in the future. The conversation quickly became about me sticking it out to the end... in a way that I could be proud of myself at 85 or whatever... that I stuck it out and took care of him. ! Wha? really? Where do we draw the line - for our own sanity, for our kids sanity? How come it is okay for a women to leave an abusive husband, but not an ill husband who engages in abusive fury... the next day I just told here to forget that I brought it up and was just venting over some wine. She was very happy to forget about the convesation.

If i choose to leave at some point, I will not know how to do it. I will need help, support, etc... but will have to be prepared to lose most of 'our' friends in the process. All this anxiety and I am only beginning the evaluation period....!

I am curious what people think of using a 2 yr plan to focus myself on.... to save money, plan and prepare for making a decision to stay or leave at the end of those 2 years?

June 21, 2010 - 5:38pm
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

timeforme - I like the name you picked for yourself, and am glad you joined our site. You're in one of those situations where well-meaning people who have no idea of what you are actually living will feel they have the right to give you advice based on their perception of what they would do in the same situation. Until they have actually walked in your shoes they really have no expertise to offer, just an opinion. You have two children to care for, are the family breadwinner and are now a caregiver too. That's a lot for any person to take on, and can be overwhelming.

We have a thread on our site about living with, and possibly leaving, a sick spouse that I think you'd find very helpful. You're definitely not alone in what you're thinking and experiencing right now, and sometimes it helps to learn from others. You'll find it here: https://www.empowher.com/community/ask/living-and-possibly-leaving-sick-spouse-heartfelt-story-reader-looking-advice

As women we are expected by society to be the caregivers. Many people have no idea what that means and get their impressions of caregiving from things like TV movies that just don't give a true picture of what's involved. The thoughts you're thinking right now - concern for every member of your family, including yourself - are healthy and what you need to be doing in order to manage all of your different roles. If you're not doing well no one else in the family will do well either. Right now I hope you will take some time for yourself to just absorb some of this information and process your feelings, and want to assure you that they are NORMAL and healthy. You may also want to see support through an objective, trained professional counselor who can help you sort through your feelings.

You will figure out the right things to do for your family, but the first step is also including yourself in the list of those you care for.

Please stay in touch, and take care, Pat

June 11, 2010 - 5:02pm

Thank you - I kinda started rambling when I wrote this...so thank you for your comments of eloquence - this is a very passionate and difficult issue for me and certainly for many women as you describe.

I am still learning how to devote time for myself. It is a daily challenge. Sometimes that time is when my kids are in school, husband is at work and I am at home. I just crawl into bed and sleep it away. Other times, I come up with excuses to get out of the house - I even make stuff up to make it sound important and to avoid the 'conversation'. I know he feels bad and there is no need to make him feel worse, so I don't say that I just need to get the hell out of the house and away from it all - maybe I should... but I don't. We have both been to therapy on occasion and have our meds pretty well balanced - and through this I have been able to explain that I don't need a guilt trip when I leave for an evening. He has been pretty good about that part recently. So I try to arrange for a night with my gal friends and even an occasional dinner date or movie date with a friend or a 'guy' friend who knows my circumstances. It all helps.

What is challenging is that I can not talk about this with many people. My friends are my family friends. They love my husband and my children. It is not fair to put them in the middle, so it is difficult to find the person that I can talk with. When I describe what I am feeling, the first reaction is generally... it must be so hard for him.... or i can't imagine what he is feeling....

While that is true and I feel for him, this is hard on me too. It affects me too. It affects our family too. I don't want to minimize the pain and loss he feels, but I have pain and loss too.

Finding time to myself is soooo important but not an easy task.

June 11, 2010 - 12:18am
(reply to timeforme)

Wow! I am blown away at what you wrote. I am in almost the exact situation! I can't explain how wonderful it feels to know that I'm not alone in feeling this way. My husband also has a terminal illness and has become disabled. We have two precious little girls who we both love more than anything in the world. And while we love each other, our marriage feels a lot more like a business arrangement. On top of caring for my children and husband at home, I am also a CNA in a hospital, where I care for people all day long (go figure!). Before I met my husband, I was dating a doctor that I work with. Within the past few months, the old feelings for my ex have surfaced, but they are multiplied! I know in my heart that I will not leave my husband. I could never "kick him while he's down", but I am really starting to feel like I want a real relationship and future with my ex again. He knows about my situation at home, and he says he just wants to be there for me however he can, and he is in no hurry to find a long term relationship anywhere else, so he will just wait and make himself available whenever I need/want him. It feels unbelieveably amazing to have a man actually be there for ME, not vica verca. Even though I know that when you look at my situation in black and white, what I am feeling is VERY wrong, but I have somehow justified it, because I have to to keep my sanity.

June 8, 2011 - 11:41pm
(reply to timeforme)


I also thank you for putting your feelings and experiences into words. I am sure it is easy for people to judge you without having any idea what you have gone through or what you are dealing with on a given day. We all have choices to make in our lives and they are rarely simple black-and-white choices. Yours are extremely complicated, trying to balance a marriage, a disease, two children and the financial well-being of the family. You are clearly smart, extremely thoughtful and very loving. I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for you coming to the conclusion that you would seek companionship outside of marriage. And I see why you feel you can't talk about it with family or friends.

Do you have therapy for yourself when you need it? Someone to whom you can spill, be completely honest, and use as a sounding board?

I'm very glad you found our site. Welcome, and I look forward to reading more from you. And thank you again for writing.

June 14, 2010 - 8:24am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Anon - What an eloquent description you've given of what so many women are dealing with in these situations. And I said women because we are more likely to stick around and be caregivers for a sick spouse than men are.

Are you able to devote time to your own needs? Do you have any advice for others who may feel that caring for their sick spouse has taken over their life? Your thoughts would be appreciated. Pat

June 10, 2010 - 5:38pm
EmpowHER Guest

A great and yet touchy subject. I have been married for almost 15 years. We have 2 children under the age of 10. I have always been the major breadwinner until 2 years ago (economy...) and my husband has progressive MS. He is in a wheelchair fulltime and luckily still works fulltime. For the most part, we have a great family life, but the MS is really another addition to the family that abruptly enters the room without notice and regularly destroys the aura or ambiance of any given moment. There is no warning of MS entrance into the room and no way of knowing how long MS will stay and how violent MS will be on that given moment. I have cared and continue too care for my husband - that includes dressing/undressing, cleaning up urine soaked pants, sheets and floors, dealing with emotional outbursts, exhaustive fits of rage and depression, etc. I do it, because I love him and our family needs him. When things are good, we laugh and all have fun together, but when things turn bad - they are really bad and that is usually about 4-5 times each week, in the evening and 3-4 times on his 3 days off from work. Slowly, I have become more of a caregiver, nurse, maid, cleaner,, etc and not a wife. We have no sexual life and though it may be possible, it is something I do not desire from him anymore. There is little intimacy and no companionship as a married couple anymore, because it has been taken over by MS. I crave being alone and I crave the male attention that used to come with being married. I have had a couple of brief sexual affairs which has actually helped my attitude. I find myself less resentfull and more willing to do the things that are offputting because I have someone taking care of my needs. It may be selfish of me or certainly 'not right', but I have justified it in my mind. I don't want to hurt my husband by telling him that he is not fullfilling my needs - having MS is not his fault. But a person can only take so much and 24/7 caregiving with little in return can make a person crazy and very resentful. It was beginning to wear on my immensely and I either needed to leave him, accept a life filled with resentment, pain and agony or choose to do something about my needs. I chose the latter. I do feel strange about it and even guilty at times, but those moments when I am pulling my hair out with his illness and his needs and the emotional trauma that comes with it.... I am glad I have someone to go to to fulfill my needs. My family will stay intact and he will continue to have me there to take care of him and that is the most important thing.

You have to do what is right for you - and not pay attention to anyone who would judge you. They have not walked in your shoes.

June 10, 2010 - 2:48pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have been married to my husband for 13 years. I have known since we met that he had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Before we married, I did research, met with his doctor, and decided that he had the illness under control through medication and therapy.
The first 10 years of the marriage were average, normal. Same marriage ups and downs as everyone else. Two beautiful, happy children. Occasionally he would have an episode, usually depression, and we would deal with it like any other life challenge and move on. Marriage therapy, individual therapy for both of us, helped a lot.
About three years ago it started to get bad and more out of control. Still depression...so gradual that it wasn't noticeable until it became unbearable for me. Still in marriage/individual therapy. But I feel very alone. Like he's not the man I married. He's not the man he was 5 years ago. My gut feeling is that he is not working issues in his therapy, he is avoiding them---i know this because he avoids his issues when he talks to me.
I have never given up on him. I take care of him as best I can, I monitor his moods and adjust myself and the kids accordingly, I understand that his depression makes it impossible to notice anyone but himself (unless he finds something to criticize with me, then he is very free with the attention).
Now to the question: I want to move on with parts of my life. I want to go out with friends and have fun. I'm only 41 and I'm still cute. I don't want to leave him or divorce him. He has an illness and needs me, but he is not able to be a husband to me: emotionally, sexually, nothing. I really really need some male attention. Suppress it? Or go out and indulge it occasionally? Thanks for reading.

October 6, 2009 - 1:47pm
EmpowHER Guest

I think that only someone who has lived it can understand the wrenching emotional battles that occur when you live with someone who is chronically ill. My husband and I have been married for 18 years. About a year into our marriage, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, which is a terminal illness, but dialysis and organ transplantation can help extend life. For 15 years, I watched him get sicker and sicker, dying by inches. A year and a half ago, he finally received a kidney transplant, and has been much better. However, the price of living with his illness has been high. We did not have children. Sex became scarce, and then non-existent. Over the years, I became less of a wife, and more of a nurse, housekeeper, best friend, and roommate, since we ceased sleeping in the same room/bed long ago because of his illness, but I loved him and remained faithful. I never thought of leaving him until after he got his transplant. I know I was hoping that as he recovered, we could rebuild our intimacy and sex life, but that is not happening. We have talked about it several times, and he is simply not interested, nor is he willing to get counseling, with or without me. About a month ago, I started having an emotional affair with a co-worker, and now am seriously contemplating having sex with him. I am also going through huge internal emotional battles, because I want so much more than what I have, but feel a lot of pressure to stay, since the transplant is showing signs of rejection. I feel that I have set my own wants, needs, and desires aside for a very long time, with a sense of hope, but now that hope seems to be lost, and I really am thinking about moving on. I have looked for resources about women who face this dilemma, and have found precious little.

August 19, 2009 - 6:35pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Hello, Anon:

Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are absolutely right: we would have to walk in your shoes to understand what you're going through.

I would have to imagine that your hubby's lack of interest in intimacy has everything to do with his illness, and perhaps unspoken guilt for not being able to be the man you (or he) expected him to be when you married. I'm so sorry you've lost hope in your marriage. Please feel free to vent here any time.

August 19, 2009 - 6:42pm
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