Relationships are hard work, but when one partner has a chronic illness it can be difficult to nurture the relationship on top of managing pain and other symptoms. As we celebrate love in the month of February, I’m happy to share with you my tips for a happy and healthy #ChronicRelationship.
1. Learn to laugh at the absurdity of #ChronicLife together.
Chronic illness creates the potential for some pretty unsexy moments. You can either cringe and make the situation uncomfortable for both of you, or, learn to laugh and take in stride.
2. Say thank you.
It’s easy to let your partner pick up the slack when you're not feeling well, but it's important to acknowledge all the ways they support you - big or small. Nothing Fancy. Just a text to say “thanks for taking the dog out this morning so I could rest” goes a long way.
3. Be supportive of their social life without you.
This one’s hard, but so important. There’ll be times your partner makes plans with friends while you are laid up in bed. Unless you require hands-on care, encourage your partner to keep their plans. It’s frustrating in the moment, but goes a long way to maintain balance in the relationship.
4. Make date night a priority - even if the date is at home.
Date nights can fall off the radar, especially during a flare - which is usually when they're most important. Pick a movie on Netflix, make some popcorn and order dinner. Shut off phones. Be present in one another's company, even if you're not up to leaving the house.
5. Know when to unplug.
The #ChronicLife community provides amazing support. When I'm feeling poorly, it’s easy to retreat online where people can empathize with what I’m going through. It’s more important to stay connected with your partner during the tough times. I try to limit Twitter time to 30 minutes and find comfort in laughing together at the latest episode of “Lip Sync Battle” on DVR.
6. Find ways to pamper your partner when you’re feeling up to it.
Get up a few minutes early and put the coffee on. Stick a silly note in their pocket before they leave for work. Do a load of laundry for them. When your partner often has to play caregiver, it’s important to find balance whenever possible. Doing small things to take care of them ensures that balance.
7. Be specific about when you need help and support.
Even the best partners aren’t mind readers, and it’s easy to get frustrated when we don’t feel like they’re supporting us as best they can. Instead of hoping they’ll do what you need, be direct and ask them for help with a specific task, appointment, etc. It takes the pressure off of them trying to figure out how to be helpful without being overbearing.
8. Make intimacy a priority.
If sex is painful (or if there are other barriers to intercourse) find other ways to be intimate with one another. Intimacy is important for all couples – not just those dealing with chronic illness, but pain and other symptoms can often make sex more painful than pleasurable. When that’s the case, it’s important to find other ways to be physically and emotionally intimate. This connection helps us to anchor our romantic relationships lest the balance tip too far towards the caregiver/caregivee direction.
9. Ensure you have back up caregivers like friends, family or even neighbors.
I don’t think it’s healthy to rely on one’s partner to be “all things at all times” even when chronic illness isn’t involved. That’s why it’s important to have other people available to step in when your partner is unavailable or unable (they get sick too!) to provide the level of care you need.
10. Be patient.
Even partners that are well versed in #ChronicLife can struggle to figure out the best way to be supportive or helpful. Chronic illness progresses and changes, new symptoms emerge and meds increase. Try to remember that these changes impact them too. Give them time to adjust and talk about the effects of new meds, etc. Never forget that you are partners first and foremost, and the only way to make a #ChronicRelationship work is with mutual support, love and understanding.
Do you have a tip for improving your relationship?
See More Helpful Articles:
Relationships and Chronic Illness: an Interview with Sherrie and Gregg Piburn
A Couple’s Honest Discussion on Chronic Illness and Caregiving
Relationship Tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients and Their Caregivers
How to Have Satisfying Sex despite Chronic Pain
_You can read more about Anna’s story on her blog http://sixhipsandcounting.com, and you can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. _