Relationships and heart problems: Sarah and Steve’s story

Sarah and her husband Steve

Health issues can affect relationships in all sorts of ways. Sarah Brown and her husband Steve talk to Katherine Woods about how their relationship has changed after Sarah’s diagnosis.

Sarah Brown, 58, was diagnosed with microvascular angina and coronary artery spasm in 2012. She experiences chest pain daily and sometimes needs to be treated in hospital.

Sarah, who developed depression after her diagnosis, used to enjoy cycling and hiking with her husband Steve. “At first there was a feeling of grief that the life we thought we would have wasn’t going to happen. But we’ve realised there are other ways to enjoy life. Over time I’ve managed to be more active, and we walk around lakes together,” Sarah says. “I also encourage Steve to go on skiing or mountain-walking holidays with friends.”

When Sarah became ill, Steve took on additional responsibilities such as cooking and taking the children to activities – as well as looking after Sarah. “When Sarah’s tired and in pain, I have a nurturing instinct; I want to look after her,” he says.

But for Sarah, it was hard to accept that her relationship with Steve was changing. “The most difficult thing was becoming dependent on my husband, emotionally and physically,” says Sarah, who used to be a midwife but has stopped working due to her condition.

“In lots of ways, he’s become my carer.” Steve sometimes finds it difficult too: “I can feel helpless in winter when Sarah’s pain gets worse. There’s not much I can do other than bring her cups of tea and be there to talk to.”

Sarah Brown tending to her garden

Family communication

Sarah and Steve’s children were 11, 15 and 17 when Sarah became ill. “It was a critical time in their adolescence and we wanted to protect them,” Sarah explains. “We let the schools know what was going on; however, we didn’t talk openly about it at home. My instinct to protect the family meant I wasn’t always open with Steve about how I was feeling.”

Sarah’s depression worsened, and in 2016 she started having counselling from a clinical psychologist, which helped her open up to Steve and the children. Sarah believes that being open about how her condition affects her has encouraged the children to share more about what’s happening in their own lives too. 

Sarah Brown with her family

Sarah and Steve with their three children 

For Sarah, the most important thing has been to recognise that everyone has their own needs and ways of coping. “We talk about our feelings in a way we didn’t before – we’ve learned not to make any assumptions about how anyone is feeling or to take each other for granted.” 

Published on the BHF website

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