Dear Imprudence: Interfering in My Friend’s Marriage is My DUTY!

In a recent Carolyn Hax column, a reader wrote in with the following:

Dear Carolyn:

A friend of mine is getting married to a woman who has multiple sclerosis. His family is very upset by this fact (along with a few other issues they have with his bride-to-be). Should something like having a chronic illness even be a consideration when choosing the person to spend the rest of your life with? I wonder if my friend is setting himself up for a very difficult road ahead.


Ah, yes, the old concern trolling ‘for the friend’s own good,’ turning to an advice columnist for backup; this letter seems to pretty unambiguously suggest that the family is justified in being ‘upset’ by the friend’s choice of life partner. It’s sort of surprising the letter writer is even consulting Hax, since the opinions in this letter feel very clearly formed, unless this is some sort of devious plan involving casually leaving the paper open to this letter and the expected approving response to say ‘see!’ to the friend.

Unfortunately, these kinds of attitudes are distressingly common. People who marry people with disabilities are told that they are ‘brave’ for marrying their partners and staying with them, and they’re provided with plenty of outs for escaping the relationship; when things get tough, they’re encouraged to abandon their partners ‘because no one would blame you,’ and all problems in the relationship get reduced to the disabilities. And, of course, people preparing to marry people with disabilities are told that they should ‘reconsider’ and ‘think seriously about’ the relationship. The spectre of caregiving is raised to terrify people into thinking ‘oh, right, I don’t actually love this person! Thanks for saving me!’

And Hax’ response illustrated why I love Carolyn Hax:

Of course he is.

And of course a chronic illness should be a serious consideration — your friend would be doing this woman no favors if he didn’t take her prognosis heavily into account — but for many people it’s not a make-or-break consideration.

The way you pose your question, I’m not sure whether the “difficult road” you anticipate is the multiple sclerosis or the disapproving family. Either way, you’re right. However, there are plenty of people who think the toughest road would be the one traveled without the person they love.

Now, it’s not as if illness spins jerks into gold; if your friend’s family has legitimate concerns about the fiancee’s character, then I do hope they’ll spell this out for him.

But if your friend feels, eyes open, that his fiancee is the one he wants at his side, and if his family’s objection is to her illness (with the “few other issues” thrown out there as a fig leaf), then all I can say is, shame on them. Even though I utterly loathe that expression.

People are very fond of judging each other’s marriages. It honestly seems to be a bit of a national pasttime, whether people are judging people for the ceremony, or who is getting married, or changing names (or not changing names), or whether there are children involved, or any number of things. It seems to be generally socially acceptable to meddle in someone’s marriage planning and to make pronouncements about how a marriage is ‘doomed from the start.’ And these comments often come from family. When disabilities are involved, those comments tend to ramp up, and there can be an undertone of extreme ugliness that can be very revealing about social attitudes and the beliefs people feel it’s appropriate to air.

Here, the family has decided they don’t like the fiance, maybe because she has MS, maybe because of something else. The point is that the letterwriter seems to think the MS is sufficient reason to call off the marriage; how could the letterwriter’s friend be expected to marry a woman with MS? They’re in for a ‘hard road’! Everyone knows that people with chronic illnesses shouldn’t get married (and of course that they never marry each other). ┬áThe letterwriter seems to be hitting Carolyn Hax up to justify ableist beliefs; to me, it seems clear that the ‘hard road’ referenced isn’t dealing with the family, but, rather, being married to a disabled woman, and Hax didn’t let D.C. off the hook.

I know that at least some of our readers (and contributors) are married or in relationships and encounter these kinds of attitudes about their relationships; how do you counter them? Do you counter them?

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

11 thoughts on “Dear Imprudence: Interfering in My Friend’s Marriage is My DUTY!

  1. Everyone, disabled or not, who is about to get married is embarking on “a very difficult road.” Anyone who thinks otherwise is in for a major surprise.

    When we encounter any kind of criticism of our marriage, whether on ableist or other grounds, my husband and I usually respond with something like “This is the sacred circle of our marriage, and these comments aren’t appropriate.” Sometimes, we’ll say it to the person, and sometimes, we’ll just say it to each other. It usually helps us redraw the circle and heal the intrusion.

  2. This has come up in my relationship before. His mother asked if I “had any diseases” (I can’t give you the accurate meaning of what was said as it wasn’t said in English). Not wanting to cause conflict, he lied and said no. That I just get tired more easily than others.

    I haven’t had the heart or the energy to tell them the truth, and because of language barriers I’m not sure I’d be able to describe it adequately. And I’m pretty sure he hasn’t told them either. I don’t really blame him – his family is important to him and while he assures me that he would stick by me regardless of what they think, it would cause a lot of stress on the both of us.

    But it still hurts. It was a while ago, and it still hurts. The fact that I have to hide this part of myself, something that affects every single day of my life and how I do the things I do, to avoid possible conflict with them. I don’t want to be a source of hardship for anyone. But I don’t want to have to hide either.

    Since then it’s been a subject unspoken of between him and I. I may need to bring it up again, to voice my concerns, because of how much it still bothers me. Because this isn’t going away, and if my disabilities progress, they’ll become more noticeable and I may not be able to hide them anymore. On that matter, I shouldn’t have to. I already do that with the rest of the world, I shouldn’t have to do it with who may become my extended family too.

  3. I have soaked these types of attitudes up to such an extent that I am usually the one to apologize to my partner for my illness or in some way voice that she would be better off not in a relationship with me because of my health problems. Luckily, she just sees it as another part of me, not an issue or a problem. I thought I was the one teaching her about disability, but sometimes it’s the other way around. She is helping me feel less guilty about “inflicting” my disability on people and realize that it is just another part of me.

  4. The thing is, anyone can get a chronic illness at any time. Marrying someone without a chronic illness does not guarantee that they will never have one. So I don’t even get the logic behind this. And I agree with Rachel that marriage is a hard road regardless (I’m not married, so YMMV).

    I’ve never had this happen to me personally, but recently my family was sitting around talking about some family friends, who have two grown sons, about my age (I’m 27). They were saying that one of them had recently gotten married but they couldn’t remember which, and then someone said that the younger of the two has had “problems with social skills,” so then one person said “Oh, it’s probably the other one that got married then,” and everyone agreed. Like someone who has problems with social skills could never possibly fall in love and get married. I indicated that I was upset by this, but they just laughed and shrugged it off.

  5. The entire time my now husband and I were dating his parents ran a campaign for him to find someone else because of my health issues (mainly rheumatoid arthritis). Up to the day of the wedding they were at him. They wouldn’t believe he was happy with me until we’d been married almost 3 yrs (6 yrs into their campaign). Needless to say we live very far away now and my husband has almost zero relationship with them. We’ve been married 16 yrs, together for 19, and have 2 children. To this day it really really upsets me.

  6. Love Carolyn Hax. She takes considerably less BS than other columnists, tempered with a strong measure of thoughtfulness.

    Rachel, I like what you had to say about the “sacred circle of marriage.” I’ll have to keep that in mind!

  7. I don’t get crap from my family, mainly because I don’t have much to do with my family (I married a man with type 2 diabetes and he’s too squeamish to give himself his insulin shots, so I do that for him). I’m also disabled, and I don’t know if he got any flack from his family or not about it (the only flack he got, that I know of, was from his ex-wife’s daughter, who thought he was getting married too soon after divorcing her mother. He told her it was none of her business, that her mother had left him and wasn’t coming back, and he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life alone, waiting on her to come back [not that he would have taken her back if she had come back, he wouldn’t have]). But it’s easier for us, we’re both older (I’m 56 and he’s 54) and we don’t much care what anyone thinks about what we do or don’t do – our lives are not the business of anyone but the 2 of us. We both knew what we were getting into when we got married, and neither one of us had a problem with it, so we figured it didn’t matter if anyone else had a problem with it or not (DH’s favorite saying is “Eat shit and bark at the moon if you don’t like it” and that’s what he tells people who comment in any way on our relationship).

  8. It pisses me off when people say i’m brave for staying with my husband who has MS. I’m doing what I promised to do when we got married, nothing more.

  9. My best friend’s mom has M.S., and has raised two daughters and has a fulfilling teaching career. Not everyone with M.S. has the same story, but it’s so frustrating when people think of disability as a death sentence. Accessible technology has enabled their family to pursue traditional holidays, vacations, and celebrations because that’s what they value.

    This letter writer is acting like M.S. is going to inhibit romance, intimacy, and commitment, which (in my mind) make a marriage successful. It doesn’t.

  10. I’m going to assume “marriage” = LT committed relationship for this comment, cuz I’m a lesbian, and we can’t get married (legally).

    The first serious relationship I had as an adult, my AB partner was always whining and angsting over my disabilities. I foolishly kept expecting her to get over it. But I knew I was fighting a bigger battle, because I knew all her friends were whispering in her ear to dump me — cuz I wasn’t “like them.” True. I was way more together and in touch with my shit. When I inevitably got dumped, gf’s said, “I don’t want to be with a sick person.”

    My life partner (six years so far) has a hidden disability, so even though we both deal with our own and each other’s disabilities, mine are impossible to hide, so the world sees her as being the one to “put up with” my disabilities. I know her mother kept telling her she could do better, and just having no idea how she could possibly find me fulfilling in any way, that I was a burden, blah blah blah. We both had to work on her mother a LOT to get her to see that, Hey! I’m a person! And a GOOD person.

    It wasn’t just my being disabled — she wasn’t thrilled that I was Jewish or a woman, either. Of course, her daughter is a lesbian, too, but it was easier to be in denial about that before I came along. But the disability was definitely the worst of my offenses. She actually said before she met me, “What will we talk about? We have nothing in common!” Cuz, you know, I must be a space alien.

    I know some other people in my partner’s life had to be won/argued into realizing I was “worth it.” She was told, when I got much more ill, to walk away. Mostly, I didn’t want to hear about it. It was too upsetting, reminded me too much of my ex. My partner had to do all the defending of me (and her choice of me) on her own, and over time, the people in her life have realized we suit each other, and I actually GIVE to the relationship, too! But dealing with those attitudes sucked for both of us, for a long time.

  11. I have autism and when my then long-time friend and I began dating some of her friends got together to tell her how she was “taking advantage of me” because of my disability. Basically they told her that I was “some kind of r**d,” that I couldn’t possibly comprehend love or even sex, and that having sex with me was essentially rape. Oh, and I’m autistic so I couldn’t possibly fulfill her emotionally. When my partner approached me about it I was very taken aback. It hurt.

    But what really made me angry was when one of these people tried to seduce her after trying to guilt/scare her out of her relationship with me.

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