Making Relationships Work

Today, I want to talk about somethings that you can do to help keep a relationship going despite being stressed by one or both partners having a chronic illness. A lot of this advice is just how I personally think good relationships work, regardless if there is chronic illness involved or not.

1. Have a clear boundaries.
Never assume your partner knows where your boundaries are until you have clearly drawn them out. When we assume that there other person knows what we need or what from them, we will end up getting into conflicts and having hurt feelings. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in a relationship, how well you know someone or how much you love them: you can never read their mind.

2. Spend time with your buddies
When you have chronic illness, it is easy to allow your social circle to shrink until it becomes no one but your partner. But the thing is that there is no way that one person is going to be able to meet all your emotional needs all the time. That’s an unfair expectation and is likely to lead to them burning out. Even if you are house bound, you can make friends by joining online communities.

3. Remind them that you love them
Make sure that you are telling your partner that you love them. Not just with your words, but with your actions too. Small gestures, that don’t require a lot of spoons can really go a long way. Write your partner a short love note and drop it in their lunch box. Send them memes to make them smile. Use please and thank you.

4. Compromise. Compromise. Compromise.
it is important for both partners to compromise. But that means that both people are getting what they want some of the time. So, if you watch your show tonight, you should be able to watch their show tomorrow. Even better if you can find shows that you both enjoy. Make sure that you are meeting each other in the middle rather then always landing on one person’s shore.

6. Find a support group
There is nothing wrong with telling your partner about the things that are going on in your life. But be careful to make sure that you aren’t using your partner as a support group. Having chronic illness comes with a lot of emotional baggage and that requires a lot of emotional work. The thing is that it’s not our partner’s job to help us work through all that baggage. Expecting them to do that is likely to lead to burn out. Instead, find a support group or get a therapist. This will help keep you from dumping all of your emotional stuff into your partner’s lap.

7. Shut up and listen
When you have a chronic illness, it is easy to become the focus of the relationship. But that’s not how good, healthy relationships work. They need to be a two-way, equal back and forth. That will look different in every relationship, but what’s essential here is that you make sure that you are are paying attention to what your partner needs too. Remember that regardless of what you are going through, they are going through things too. It is difficult to have chronic illness, but it is also difficult to watch someone you love suffer because of chronic illness. Every time you have a bad day, they do too. That’s how loving someone works. So, be sure to check in with your partner to see how they are doing.

8. Have difficult conversations
A lot of the things that we deal with in relation to our chronic illness gives us weird hang ups that we then project onto our partners. We feel useless because we haven’t been able to help with house work due to fatigue and pain then project and believe that our partner also feels we are useless. We see our scars as ugly and project that onto our partners, assuming that they no longer find us attractive. Projecting and assuming are dangerous games. They allow our insecurities to undermine our relationships. The only way to combat this is to have the difficult conversations with our partners and to confront them about how they feel. The challenge then becomes to accept whatever answer they give us.

9. You are loveable
Remind yourself that you are loveable. Regardless of what illness you have or what care needs you have, you are worthy of love. Sometimes we sabotage our own relationships because we can’t make ourselves believe that this other person could value us when we see ourselves as broken or useless. Don’t listen to this evil little imp. He is lying to you.

10. Maintain your sense of humor
When you have chronic illness, strange and awkward situations will find. They will often be embarrassing and you will wish that they were moments that no one else shared. Name your scars, give your body parts sound effects or give your partner a code name for this crazy mission you’re on together. Be sure that you laugh together about all the stressful and unexpected things that happen in your life.

11. The elephant in the room
Relationships are hard work and are messy. Things never go exactly the way that we plan and we never end up quite where we aimed for. But having chronic illness doesn’t need to be a wedge that divides you. It can be something that brings you closer. But you can’t let your chronic illness be the elephant in the room that you never talk about beyond the day to day functional level.
Here are some questions that you can ask your partner:
1. What do you think is the most difficult thing about my having chronic illness?
2. What are your biggest worries for the future?
3. How do you feel when I’m having a flare?

12. Be more then your illness
If your relationship is going to work, you need to make sure that you are having moments that are beyond your illness. You need to make sure that you are doing things together that have nothing to do with your illness. Read a book together, go for a walk, watch movies, play video games… it doesn’t matter what it is, but when you’re doing that thing together you need to do your best to not talk about your illness either. There needs to be a time and space that your illness doesn’t touch. Because you are not your illness, so don’t let it have access to everything in your life.

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