How to Cope When Your Partner Has a Chronic Health Issue

Close up of a young African couple consulting with their doctor over a video call on the laptop

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Relationships can be challenging even when all parties involved are completely healthy. Add a chronic illness or debilitating condition into the mix, and it can feel nearly impossible to keep your relationship happy and emotionally healthy.

Being with a person who has a long-term health condition can not only be difficult, you can also lose sight of your own mental and emotional wellness as you tend to your partner's needs.

Families are influential in managing chronic illness, and the situation often heavily impacts the mental health of loved ones. Ahead, learn about how to successfully navigate a chronic health issue in your relationship while still staying happy and whole.

Be Sure You're Up for the Role

The way you structure your relationship with a chronically ill person depends on whether you were already with them when they were diagnosed or met someone who already had a known condition.

Either way, checking in with yourself about whether you can assume the role of both caretaker and partner will help you feel secure in knowing how to proceed with your relationship.

Meeting Someone With a Chronic Illness

If you meet someone you're interested in dating seriously, and they reveal their long-term health condition, it's crucial to understand how your role will change with them. Let your partner choose what personal information they want to disclose; asking someone endless questions about their health may feel invasive. Use their answers to discern if this is a relationship that you would be up for or not.

Dating is difficult for the best of us, and chronically ill single people have to manage many additional factors into that already murky territory. You may be doing a disservice to a potential partner if you decide to embark on a new journey together only to leave weeks or months into the relationship because their condition is too overwhelming for you.

If the initial discussions of someone's health issues feel overwhelming, be honest with them and yourself.

A Partner Who Gets Diagnosed

For couples who have already been together a long time, especially for those who are married, it's usually a given that if one person becomes ill, the other will take care of them. Marriage vows usually state "in sickness and in health" for precisely that reason. However, it is necessary for the partner of someone diagnosed with a serious condition to make sure they are invested enough in the relationship to see it through.

When a partner is diagnosed, a helpful way for couples to iron out issues as they arise is to try couples therapy together. Taking this step to honestly and openly talk about the future of your relationship will help ensure that you are comfortable taking on the role of partner to an ill person. If it becomes apparent that you aren't, which may be particularly devastating to your partner, a therapist can support both of you through the breakup.

Discuss Caretaking With Your Partner

When one person in a relationship has a chronic condition, their partner often takes on the caretaker role. For that to occur smoothly, here are key factors to discuss before the transition.

What Are Their Needs?

Your partner should clearly tell you their caretaking needs and their needs in the relationship. Illness changes the landscape of relationships, and your partner may be unenthused about you providing them with health care and support.

After all, much of personal care isn't necessarily sexy or romantic, and it's natural to worry about how that impacts the nature of your relationship together. When you are clear on everything they need from you, your relationship, and their own medical wellness, you can better figure out how to provide for them.

What Are Your Needs?

It's vital to remember that there are two (or more) people in your relationship, and your needs are equally important. The shift of focus to a sick person can make this easy to forget, but you won't be happy in a relationship if your needs aren't met. Also, you won't allow your partner to meet those needs without knowing and expressing them clearly.

If you have emotional, intellectual, or physical needs that your partner may be unable to meet, this is an opportunity to discuss how you can meet those needs to remain fulfilled as a person. This is particularly important with chronically ill partners due to how frequently the partners of ill people feel detached from their loved one.

Additionally, it is common for the care of someone with a chronic illness to weigh heavily on the mental wellness of partners, making it all the more necessary that you stay emotionally healthy and happy.

What Are Your Boundaries?

In addition to knowing and expressing your needs, you must also know and express your boundaries to successfully navigate a relationship with a chronically ill partner. If there are some personal care tasks you don't think you could physically or emotionally do, be forthright about that from the start.

Your partner may need to find an additional source of home care, and it would be kind to help them in that search. Your boundaries can only be adhered to if you check in with yourself to discern them, then clearly state them to your partner.

The Importance of Continued Self-Care

Nothing is more key to caring well for others than caring well for yourself, too. There are idioms about how you can't fill others' cups if your own is empty for precisely that reason!

Because your partner will be busy managing living with their condition, it is your own task to set up and stick to your self-care regimen. If you feel comfortable, share your plans with them. It can be beneficial for connection and can help them feel relieved about your wellness.

How to Make Time for Yourself

Setting aside time for yourself in advance will help you stick to it in the moment. This is best discussed with a partner, especially if they need round-the-clock or frequent care in advance. Set a scheduled time for yourself as often as is feasible and viable for your situation.

Sticking to a self-care routine will not only make you a happier person, but it can also help you manage the stress of your relationship. Additionally, the act of regularly taking a break improves your productivity, helps clarify your thinking, and is beneficial for other forms of stress in your life.

Compile Self-Care Options

Now that you have a set schedule for self-care, you'll want to compile a list of the things you like to do for that. Some self-care activity choices include a massage, seeing friends, or meditating. By crafting a list of what you like best and then scheduling those activities into your schedule in your self-care time slots, you can be assured ahead of time that no matter how stressful any given moment is, relief is on the way.

Being a support system for someone else is a valiant thing, but it doesn't mean you need any less support.

Being open with your friends, practitioners, and loved ones about what you are experiencing in your relationship will make your self-care all the more advantageous.

Regular Check-Ins and Open Communication

Once you and your partner are clear about needs, boundaries, and self-care, it will serve your relationship well to check in regularly with one another about how everything is going.

Regular check-ins for yourself are also important. Your needs and self-care may need to be adjusted along the way. It is important for you to become aware of those needed changes before it starts to impact your relationship.

Changes may need to be made at points, and needs may evolve. Keeping a clear line of communication with your partner about how you are both doing, what is going well, and what feels challenging will help you stay close through this difficult time.

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