Living with Chronic Illness: Six Tips for Keeping Your Relationship Strong
Editor’s Note: This article was originally written by patient expert Carrie Beth Brown.
Relationships are difficult in the best of circumstances. When you add a chronic illness to the mix, it can be downright impossible to keep things happy and healthy between you and your partner. It’s not impossible, though. I wanted to share with you how Rheumatoid Arthritis has impacted my relationship with my husband and the methods we use for getting through our bad days and celebrating the good days.
1) Move through the grieving process together.
When you are in a relationship, it’s important to realize that BOTH of you will have your own grieving process. When you are first diagnosed, you have to figure out how you are going to adjust to living with your illness. You are grieving for the healthy body that is now lost. Your partner is grieving too. They are grieving for the loss of their partner as they know you. They are just as scared as you are about how this new disease will affect your life together.
Realizing that you are each grieving for the same losses at the same time can help you both find better ways to cope. Get through the difficulties and sadness together by leaning on each other for support and talking about your feelings.
2) Try to see life from your partner’s perspective.
It’s important to realize how frustrating it can be for your partner to see you sick and hurting every day. It’s not easy for them to take on the lion’s share of the workload instead of sharing responsibilities equally. Realize that they may be feeling sad and lonely.
If you live with someone who is chronically ill, understand how frustrating it is to be sick and have so many limitations. It’s hard to ask for help and embarrassing to have to rely on someone else for so many things. And beyond their pain and fatigue, they may be feeling sad and lonely, too.
So how do we get through it all? Carefully, softly and with a lot of deep conversations so that we can understand how the illness affects us both. If you can see life from each others point of view, you can adapt your words and actions to make things a little easier when times are difficult.
3) Make a “safe space” where you can each talk about how you’re feeling without limitations.
It’s hard to share your innermost thoughts, even with the person you care about the most in life. And sometimes it’s really hard to hear what you fear others are thinking. If you make a “safe space” where each of you can share your feelings openly and honestly, you can address issues between you before they get out of hand.
A “safe space” is a special time when you both sit down and talk about your feelings. It’s a time when you can say whatever you need to openly and out loud without the fear of being criticized or judged. It’s not always easy, sometimes it hurts to hear that someone is frustrated with you. But if you keep and open mind and try not to take things too personally, you can get all those suppressed feelings out in the open.
Once you find ways to talk about your problems, you’ll find that it becomes even easier with time. Remember to listen with an open mind and heart and be honest with each other.
4) Realize that it takes two to be in a relationship.
Once you find ways to talk openly with each other, it’s important that you both find solutions to the problems by compromising. It takes two people to be in a relationship and it will take both of you to work through the problems and issues that come up as you live your life together. Many issues may revolve around your illness, but our method of “meeting in the middle” will work for just about any problem.
We do this anytime we have issues. We try to find a middle ground so that we’re both working to resolve the problem. It’s our “I will try to do this, if you try to that” method. You’ll be amazed at how much easier things are resolved when you both work together to solve a problem.
5) Be grateful for the things you still have.
When you live a life filled with pain, fatigue and illness it’s easy to get caught up in all the things you can’t do anymore. But it’s so much more important to be grateful for the things that you CAN do, however small they may seem, and celebrate them together with your loved one.
In our household, we have a different “menu” of activities that we do together depending on whether I’m having a good day or a bad day. When I’m flaring we find quiet, easy things we can do together like watch movies or TV, order in and have a picnic in the living room, or play games that make us laugh. When the rare good days come we make time for projects around the house, have a meal out somewhere, or even just take a car ride together and enjoy the time talking. When you adjust your expectations and accept the reality of your situation, it’s much easier to find the joys in the simplest things in life, like just being able to hold hands on the couch together while watching TV.
6) Make a conscious effort to find ways to show each other that you love and care for one another.
The final tip that I have for all of you is to really make a conscious effort to show your partner that you love and care for them in as many ways as you can every day.
My husband and I work to keep the love flowing between us in small, meaningful ways We love holding hands on the couch while we’re watching TV. Whenever my husband helps me up from my chair, we hug and kiss. When we move past each other we make sure to touch an arm or a leg to connect. There are small kisses on the forehead, the top of the head or the hands. I love wearing his t-shirts as night shirts and he likes to roll over and sleep on my side of the bed with my pillow when I get out of bed early. Saying “I love you” is just one of many ways to show your partner love. Be creative, have fun with them and make that connection with them as many times per day as possible. You’ll find you both start feeling less alone and closer together than ever before.
Carrie Beth Brown is the author of the blog Dancing in the Rain.