9 Keys to Successful Relationships While Living with Chronic Illness

Chad Fisher Health Guide
  • Coming this May, I will have been married for 19 years. My wife, Maryse, is my best friend. She is my greatest support, my biggest fan, a great encouragement, and source of strength in my life. I am not sure when she made the commitment, “for better or for worse”, she fully understood the promise she was making. Yet through the good and the bad, in sickness and health, she has never failed me. I love her so much, and can’t imagine having anyone else in my life.


    A successful, loving relationship can be one of the strongest supports to live and thrive will dealing with chronic illness. But to have a healthy marriage or relationship takes work, and when there is sickness involved, even more work. Relationships don’t just happen overnight, and they don’t simply remain strong without conscious effort from the people involved. This is common sense, but in the case where one member of the relationship is chronically ill, this becomes magnified. Deliberate action, understanding, and attention is critical to sustaining and even growing a strong relationship.

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    Below I outline 9 deliberate things I have discovered are needed for a successful relationship while living with chronic illness, in my case, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.


    Two points about this list.

    -These are not listed in order of importance.
    -These apply to both individuals in the relationship, the person who is chronically ill and the person who is well. Both must work on the relationship and do these things to make it work.


    Acceptance – Accept one another just the way you are. With many of the reality shows, there has come an unrealistic idea of what people can expect in relationships. He should be built, handsome and have tons of money. She should look like the supermodel. These are neither healthy nor realistic expectations. It is one thing to want your spouse to be healthy and strong; it’s another thing to want them to be something they are not. Don’t compare them to others, this is not fairAccept each other for the person you each are.


    Patience – Learn to be patient with each other. Give each other time to grow. Give each other space to learn.  If you have been diagnosed with an illness be patient with your spouse, allow them to time to adjust and learn about what you are going through. If your spouse is the one who is sick, be patient with them; they are going through things, physically and emotionally that may be difficult to understand.


    Commitment from Both – It takes a whole, committed effort from both parties. Some people suggest a relationship or marriage is a 50/50 split regarding effort. That is totally wrong. What happens when one spouse can only put in 35 percent? Something somewhere will be missing. If each person tries to put in 100 percent all the time, then on days when one person is struggling or unable to give everything, the relationship will remain strong because the other spouse makes up for the lack.  Don't just give 50 percent, give 100 percent.


    Willingness to Listen – Take the time to sit, talk and especially listen to one another. Communication is a leading cause of relationships that fail. Talking is necessary, but listening is more important. Listen to the good things your spouse has to say, but also listen to what bothers them. Listen with a sincere heart, understanding, hearing and thinking about what your partner is saying. Invite them to tell you their dreams and their hurts, their joys and their pains. Be vulnerable with each other.


    Laugh & Cry Together – Chronic illness usually involves moments of sadness and tears. Share those times together; allow them to moments of bonding. Don’t cry just for the sake of crying, but when they come, don’t hide from your spouse. Oh… and guys, you can still be a man and cry. In the same way, make sure you have times of laughing together. Intentionally do things that will bring joy into the relationship. Both emotions are needed, and need to be shared together.

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    Understanding – Understand each other. This is not just listening to one another, but realizing or recognizing each other’s needs. It is essential for the healthy spouse to understand that their sick spouse may not be able to perform certain activities or has specific needs. In the same way, the partner who is ill needs to acknowledge that their healthy partner has needs, as well. Remember it always goes both ways. In order for a relationship to work, both partners must make the effort to understand each other. The only way to understand each other is to listen to each other.


    Forgiveness – Forgive one another. Don’t hold grudges, realize each will make mistakes; each will have bad days and unpleasant moments. Rather than bottling it up and allowing it to divide you; ask one another for forgiveness and then forgiveIt doesn’t pay to stay angry or frustrated. Remember, unforgiveness will lead to breakdown in communication.


    Physical Interaction – Physical intimacy is important. Now, I understand for people with RA, or other physically painful and restrictive illnesses, this can pose a problem. Find ways to stay physically bonded.  Look for moments when pain levels are at a minimum. Try different positions that put less strain on the body. Take the time to caress and kiss. Be patient and understand it may take a little more time to get in the mood. If your spouse is in paindon’t just stop touching them for fear of hurting them, be gentle, and explore ways to be sensual yet sensitive. If you are the spouse who is sick, don’t push your spouse away, talk to them and give them pointers on how they can show physical affection in a gentle manner.


    Sacrifice – Be willing to sacrifice and give your life for your spouse. Three words: Give, Give, Give. Many don’t like that word, but there is no getting around it. Sacrifice is giving even when it hurts, when it is inconvenient, and giving even when you don’t feel like it. If you want to have a strong, healthy and thriving relationship, it will only be as both partners are willing to give and sacrifice for one another.


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    In closing, this is not an exhaustive list by any means. It could be added to, but I hope it provides something for you to think about, talk about, and maybe work on as you enter this valentine’s season.


    If you have any suggestions or thoughts, I would love to hear them.


    Now, why not go and give your spouse a warm hug, and tell them how much you love them.



    Chad is also the writer for Living With Arthritis Today and can be followed on twitter.

Published On: February 06, 2012