Chronically Ill and Single: 5 Challenges You Might Face

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 12 February 2024
  • 10 minute read
Chronically Ill and Single: 5 Challenges You Might Face | The Health Sessions

You don’t need a partner in your life to be happy and to feel loved. Like Miley Cyrus sings, you can buy yourself flowers.

When you’re seriously sick, it can even be a relief to be able to fully focus on your own wellbeing. But at the same time, not having that one special person in your life may also come with challenges.

After sharing articles on connecting with your partner and keeping love alive when you have health problems on Facebook, a longtime follower commented:

‘Why is there never any advice about being chronically ill and single, and all the problems that I face because of that?’

And that’s a valid point. Because it can feel lonely when you don’t have a longterm partner, especially when you hit that age when many of your friends do have a spouse or family and spend much more time focused on their own inner circle. If you’re living alone, there’s no automatic, built-in support system, not just emotionally, but also practically and financially.

It can be challenging to start dating and find someone who understands and accepts you as you are, flaws and flare-ups included. Getting diagnosed with a chronic illness can also break up marriages – particularly when it’s the wife who becomes sick. Rebuilding your life after a divorce is never easy, but becomes even harder when you’re struggling with debilitating symptoms at the same time.

What kind of challenges do you face when you’re chronically ill and single, and how can you cope with that? 

Chronically Ill and Single: 5 Challenges You Might Face | The Health Sessions
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1. Loneliness and isolation

Sex and The City showed us that being single can be fun and flirtatious, but sadly, we don’t all have fabulous friends to fill the void. Not everyone understand what it’s like to live with MS, Crohn’s disease or traumatic brain injury, and it may be hard to stay in touch with the ones who do if you can’t socialize in person often.

So when you live by yourself and chronic illness forces you to spend a lot of time at home – sick in bed, working remotely, resting up – the silence in the room can be deafening. You miss someone to talk to, to cheer you up when you’re having a bad pain day, to give you a hug when you need one.

An even if you do have housemates or live-in relatives, you may still experience emotional loneliness, like nobody really gets what you’re going through. We all want to be heard, seen and understood, so it’s only natural you long for somebody who will stand by your side through the good and the bad times.

How you can copeFamily and friends can’t replace romantic love, but having social support does reduce some of the negative emotions around being single and chronically ill. So reach out to the kind people in your life and explore how you can still spend time with them, even if it’s in a different way than before.

Connect with like-minded people through patient support groups, virtual classes or online clubs, but also come up with a plan to deal with the moments of social isolation you may face during a long sickbed. You can find more tips on how to deal with loneliness here.

2. Fears and anxiety

If you’ve been living with chronic illness for a while, the thought has probably crossed your mind: What if something horrible happens to me and there’s no one around?

What if I fall and can’t get back up, without my phone in reach? What if I have (another) seizure, breathing difficulty or diabetic emergency and there isn’t anybody there to call an ambulance? Or maybe you’ve ‘only’ felt that slight panic in your chest when you’re extremely faint and dizzy or vomiting nonstop, and just want someone to keep an eye on you, just in case.

But not having a partner to lean on can also trigger other legitimate worries. You may feel anxious about financial insecurity if you’re unable to work (full-time), while the medical bills are piling up and the costs of living alone are high. And how can you keep living independently when your progressive illness worsens?

There are no easy solutions for these problems, and being coupled-up doesn’t necessarily take away your concerns. But just having someone you trust closeby can give you a little more peace of mind.

How you can cope: When it comes to being scared for your own safety, you can try some psychological strategies to deal with health-related anxiety and acute health scares, as well as coming up with a practical plan to deal with possible threatening situations. You could also look into medical alert systems or watches to get assistance when you need it.

And for general worrying, take it one step at a time – no one knows exactly what the future will hold. After you’ve learned to accept your current reality, come up with out-of-the-box strategies to deal with your concerns, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to do it all alone, single or not.

Chronically Ill and Single: 5 Challenges You Might Face | The Health Sessions
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3. Practical problems

We’ve all sang along to Destiny’s Child’s Independent Women, but in reality, you probably do need some help from other people when you’re exhausted and in pain every day.

When you’re chronically ill and single, there may be no one around to make you dinner after a tiring trip to the hospital. No one who automatically takes out the trash when you’re too sick to get out of bed, or who can help you manage your health insurance and medical records.

If there are essential chores you simply cannot do because of your condition, you have little choice but to ask for help, even if it’s something relatively simple like carrying your groceries inside or replacing a higher-placed light bulb. Aside from the issue of who’s available to help out, you might struggle emotionally with having to depend on other people.

Of course, there are plenty of able-bodied partners who don’t do much around the house, but at least you have someone around you can ask for help.

How you can copeMake a list of returning or one-off problems that you need help with. See if there are smarter ways to tackle those chores – like ordering groceries online or using a robot vacuum – and what you need outside help with. Sit down with family and friends and see who’s able and willing to provide practical support, and what their strengths are.

Also look into making home modifications, outsourcing work like getting meal delivery services or laundry services, and available home-based care in your area. Finally, give your self-reliance an extra boost by becoming an expert in getting things done with chronic illness, from cooking healthy meals with less effort to working remotely without burning yourself out.

4. Unfulfilled wants, needs and dreams

Anyone without a partner can struggle with unfulfilled needs, whether that’s sexual desire or wanting to start a family.

But when you’re chronically ill and single, it’s often less easy to fulfill that physical and emotional intimacy, with or without a (temporary) lover. You can’t meet a cute guy or girl at the bar if you’re mostly housebound, and it’s harder to have those open-hearted talks with family and friends over texts and FaceTime.

You might also dream of specific relationship goals, like living together, getting married and having kids – or just a passionate kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It can be painful to see the people in your life reach these milestones, without knowing if you’ll ever be healthy enough to start dating again and have all of that too.

How you can cope: First of all, let yourself grieve over what you’ve lost to chronic illness and all the milestones in life you’re missing out on. You have every right to be sad, upset and feel like life’s unfair. It’s hard to move forward if you put on a brave face every day and don’t process all the difficult emotions you’re experiencing deep down.

Next, see how you can fulfill your underlying needs in a different way until Mr. or Mrs. Right comes along. If you’re touch starved, book a relaxing massage, cuddle with pets or ask your mum and bestie for a hug. Explore your sensuality – that can encompass so much more than just sexuality. For more emotional connection, you could try to deepen your existing relationships or make new like-minded friends.

None of these things may fully replace having a loving partner to share your life with, but it can ease some of the longing.

Chronically Ill and Single: 5 Challenges You Might Face | The Health Sessions
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5. Worries about your future love life

‘Will I ever meet someone (new)? But how, and where?’ Dating with chronic illness can be challenging, especially if socializing in person takes up a lot of energy.

And you might worry, ‘If I do meet someone cute, will they stay interested when I share my health problems, and will they understand?’ We all have little insecurities we don’t feel comfortable sharing. But it can be really vulnerable to open up to a potential partner about all the ways that your health impacts your life. Plus, you don’t want to overshare on the first date(s), but also don’t set unrealistic expectations that you can’t meet.

Now let’s say you do really like each other, how do you handle things like being intimate with chronic pain, fatigue or ’embarrassing’ symptoms? And will you have enough energy to be a caring girlfriend/boyfriend over time while you’re juggling illness, therapy and general life stuff?

How you deal with these dilemmas depends on your personality and unique situation, and as long as you take some general safety tips in mind, there’s no wrong or right way to handle dating with chronic illness. But it’s totally understandable that you may have worries about your future love life when there are potential bumps along the way.

How you can cope: When you get back into dating with chronic illness, learn how to communicate your limitations kindly but clearly from the start. You don’t have to explain your full medical history until you’ve built sufficient trust, and always remember that explaining your situation to someone who genuinely cares is not the same as having to justify your illness to a skeptical date.

If meeting a potential partner doesn’t seem likely right now because of your health, acknowledge that your current reality might not be how you’d envisioned your (love) life to be. Find healthy ways to deal with your worries and emotions, like journaling, creative expression or clearing your mind with gentle movement. Acceptance does not mean you give up hope of finding the love of your life – you just see your situation for what is right now, without labeling it good or bad, and you try to make the most of it.

Chronically Ill and Single: 5 Challenges You Might Face | The Health Sessions
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Not having a partner by your side when you’re living with serious health problems can be lonely, worsen your worries about handling medical emergencies and pose some practical problems. But even though it’s not the ideal picture you had in mind, you can still feel loved and connected, live a good life on your own terms and even embrace some of the upsides of being single.

Because in the end, it’s far better to be on your own than to be in a relationship with the wrong person. Like Emma Watson famously said:

“It took me a long time, but I’m very happy [being single] – I call it being self-partnered.”

If you’re chronically ill and single right now, which practical or emotional challenges do you face, and how do you deal with them? 

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