April 30, 2021

Love Recon How to Deal with Chronic Illness in a Relationship feature image

Need help to find out how to deal with chronic illness in a relationship?

Chronic illness can happen to anyone. The Rand Corporation reports that almost 60% of Americans have at least one type of chronic condition. When you learn that your partner has been diagnosed with a serious illness, this may mean that you will become the caregiver. “In sickness and in health” takes on a whole new meaning for you. Some marriages or relationships don’t make it because of the complexities of dealing with chronic illness. What are some strategies to help you and your spouse through this?

  1. Talk about the reality of what you are facing. You don’t want to minimize or sugarcoat it, but neither do you want to focus on the difficulty of the situation.  It is crucial that you express your feelings – sometimes to each other and sometimes to a trusted person in your life.  There are so many feelings in dealing with a chronic illness. You could very well experience all of these emotions:
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Isolation
  • Grief
  • Sense of being trapped
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sexual fears
  • Spiritual doubts
  • Parenting concerns
  • Uncertainty about future
  • Nervousness
  • Helplessness
  1. Educate yourselves. Learn all that you can, not only about the disease or illness but also about the resources available. Love Recon How to Deal with Chronic Illness in a Relationship body image
  1. Get counseling. It is a good idea for each of you to see a helping professional separately as well as together.  A rabbi, priest, minister, or counselor could be helpful to you. 
  1. Let go of the way things used to be. Life is different now and may never be the same.  Holding on to the past only makes you susceptible to depression and feelings of despair.  Grieve what you have lost- camping and hiking trips, for example – but explore new ways to enjoy your life together at whatever level your partner’s health will allow. Books, movies, board games, dining out, cooking together, and beach vacations are just a few of the possibilities. 
  1. Adjust to your new normal. Look at the list of tasks that each of you has been responsible for.  You may need to switch duties and responsibilities.  For instance, he may now need to do the grocery shopping and cooking which she has previously done.  She can participate by making a list of groceries and household supplies for him to shop for.  Find ways for each of you to participate as much as possible in daily life so that you both feel that you are contributing and adding value to your relationship. 
  1. Communicate about finances. Chronic illness can strain your financial resources.  To the level that is appropriate and does not create a burden of guilt, there need to be conversations about the economic impact of dealing with the illness.  As long as the ill partner can help in the financial decisions for the family, it is good to give them the opportunity to do so. 
  1. Watch for caregiver burnout. It is common for the caregiver to grow fatigued and burn out from the daily tasks that he/she fulfills.  Here are a few signs of burnout:
  • Withdrawal emotionally and physically
  • Loss of interest
  • Feeling hopeless and irritable
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Sick more often
  • Thoughts of hurting self or spouse
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion

These are pretty normal and are indicators that the caregiver needs to do self-care and reach out for help.

  1. Care for the caregiver.
  • Balance your love for your spouse and care for yourself.
  • Take time to renew yourself and do things that keep you healthy and sane – spiritual practices, exercise, hobbies, etc.
  • Take frequent breaks, even if it is just a walk around the block.
  • Keep a list of things that you could use help with. When someone offers to help, give them something from your list to do.
  • Stay connected with a close friend(s).
  • Know your limits! Don’t try to be a superhero. Ask for help.
  1. Choose a positive attitude. You didn’t choose for one of you to be chronically ill, but you can choose how you deal with it. You don’t have to deal with it alone; you “get to” deal with it with the person you love.  You get to be there for each other in the hard times.  You get to celebrate the victories, large or small, with each other.  You get to grow as individuals and a couple in ways that you might never have otherwise.
  2.  Value and appreciate each other. Every day, express your love to each other. Look for ways to express kindness to one another. (Kindness is love in action!) Let your mate know how valuable they are to you, despite their illness.  Express gratitude to them for what they bring to your life.

A chronic illness does not have to diminish the quality of your relationship. As many will testify, walking the road of a chronic illness together has drawn them closer than they could have imagined.

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About the author 

Cliff Poe

Cliff Poe is Founder and Lead Coach for Recon Coaching. He and his wife, Jeani, are Master Coaches and their passion is to help individuals and couples form healthy, lasting and satisfying relationships. Cliff has a M.Div. in pastoral counseling and ministry. He enjoys writing and coaching as well as his family which includes 2 adult kids and their spouses, 6 grandchildren and a fur family composed of a Golden Retriever and a Mackerel Tabby.


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