When Chronic Illness Causes Relationship Breakups


As a chronically ill person, I think one of my biggest fears is that my illnesses will have a negative impact on my relationships.  None of us want something we have very little control over to come between ourselves and our partner.

My boyfriend of three and a half years and I broke up in December.  A lot of the reasons for the break-up were put on me, mainly that my fatigue had a negative impact on our social life and sex life, which led to the demise of our relationship.

The odd thing is that while I used to take it personally when I felt that a relationship ended because of chronic illness, in this case, I have come to the realization that this person couldn’t handle my illnesses, and it speaks volumes about him and less about me.

Not everyone we meet will be capable of dealing with and coping with our illnesses.  That is a sad and scary reality of this disease.  It is scary to think that people will judge us and not try to get to know us because we are sick.

So how do we try and build relationships with RA, and how do we cope when they don’t work out?

Dating and disclosing: the Third Date Rule

Since I had been with my boyfriend for nearly four years and we had talked about marriage, I was excited at the prospect of never having to date again.

Dating is hard for anyone, and chronic illness makes it that much harder.  For me, because I am so vocal online, many of the people that I have met on online dating sites have checked me out and think that before the first date even happens that they know my story.  This frustrates me because my blog does not say everything, so I think it is unfair to judge when you have not even met me yet.  On the other hand, it is a good way to weed out people.

In my past dating life, I have lived by the third date rule.  I would disclose my chronic illnesses by the third date.  It’s a little much for a first date conversation, but if there is a second and then a third date, the relationship might be going somewhere.  And why get really invested in a relationship and then have it end because of things you did not say, things that the person may never be ready to hear?

The reality of dating is that because many chronic illnesses are unpredictable, we might have to cancel a date.  Even friends you have known for a long time can be put off by this, so imagine what it is like when you’re just getting to know someone who you are seeking a romantic relationship with.  I almost had to do that with my first date with my now ex-boyfriend, but I knew that if I cancelled, I probably never would have gotten a second chance at a first date.  In retrospect, maybe I should have cancelled.

More than anything, what I realized coming out of this relationship is that I have some work to do on myself.  And I don’t want to be in a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship.  I want a partner, someone who will be there in both good and bad times.

There are even dating sites for people with disabilities, if that is an identity you relate to in connection to your RA.

Marriage (and divorce)

I think for a lot of people, “in sickness and in health” is a hypothetical, and some people cannot really deal with it in reality.  Even if you are sick when you begin a relationship, it seems that the ever-changing nature of chronic illnesses means that if your partner is supportive in the beginning, unfortunately they might not be supportive forever.  Even the strongest marriages can be strained by RA, but there are ways to strengthen marriages that are strained by RA.

And this is unfortunate because those who are abandoned due to illness tend to have poorer health outcomes.  Additionally, women are more likely to be left than men are, mainly because caregiving is still seen as a stereotypically female role.

Although the exact percentage is disputed, divorce rates among the chronically ill are very high.  This is sad to admit, but a reality that we must face.

To be sure, it is not all gloom and doom.  Relationships can work and grow despite chronic illness.  But it takes work just like any other marriage, and those with chronic illnesses and their partners might have to work a little bit harder than others.

So I guess I’ve become a statistic.  My relationship is just one of many that do not survive chronic illness, despite the fact that I had been sicker at other points in our relationship, it was the fatigue that killed it.  And in reality, my illnesses are not the only thing that killed the relationship.  But it was a big factor, and a factor that was likely never going to go away.

See More Helpful Articles:

The Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue

Relationships and Chronic Illness: an Interview with Sherrie and Gregg Piburn

8 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Relationship despite Chronic Illness

Relationship Tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients and Caregivers

Relationship Advice for Your Partner after a Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis