24 Ideas to Connect with Your Partner When One of You is Chronically Ill

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 13 February 2023
  • 8 minute read
24 Ideas to Connect with Your Partner When One of You is Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

This article contains some affiliate links to resources you may find useful, at no extra costs to you. All opinions are my own. 

Let’s be honest: It’s not always easy to be a considerate partner when you’re exhausted and in constant pain, struggling to get through the day. It can be challenging to listen attentively when you suffer from brain fog, your mind’s filled with worries and you secretly feel so angry at life that you can’t do any of the things your partner talks about. And it’s hard to be intimated when your meds have killed your libido, it hurts to have sex or you don’t feel attractive at all.

And let’s not forget that sometimes chronic illness turns your old relationship dynamics upside down. All of a sudden, someone who used to be independent now has to rely on their partner for practical help and emotional support. How do you juggle the daily caretaking with keeping the romance alive too?

What you can and cannot do obviously depends on your health, living situation, interests and relationship dynamics. But here are 24 ideas to connect with your partner when one of you is chronically ill.

1. Learn Your Love Languages

According to Gary Chapman, the author of ‘The 5 Love Languages’, we all have our own preferred way to give and receive love. Some of us love compliments, gifts or acts of service, while others appreciate having fun together or being intimate more. Knowing each other’s primary love language can help you avoid misunderstandings and disappointments, as well as save you precious energy. Because wouldn’t it be frustrating if you make an effort to get your partner a special gift or arrange breakfast in bed, when what really means most to them is to get a well-meant compliment, a sensual massage or a fun date together?

Here are some ideas how you can speak your partner’s love language despite the pain and symptoms you’re experiencing:

  • 1. Express words of affirmation by putting a little love note in their lunch box or letting your partner know how proud you are of them.
  • 2. Spend quality time together by building a comfy pillow fort in bed, having a romantic dinner at home or trying one of the cozy date ideas in this article.
  • 3. Give loving gifts – that don’t have to cost much money or energy – like buying a single peony, framing a photo of the two of you or put together a movie night in a tin.
  • 4. Perform acts of service while keeping your limitations in mind. You could stock the fridge with good food for the weekend or surprise your significant other by taking over one of their usual chores around the house.
  • 5. Explore physical touch in a pain-free way, perhaps by holding hands in public, intentionally kissing your partner a few seconds longer or taking a bath together.

You can find the full list with illness-proof ways to express your love language here.

24 Ideas to Connect with Your Partner When One of You is Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions
Photo by Ivan Samkov via pexels.com

2. Strengthen Your Emotional Connection

Close relationships rely on mutual trust and understanding to feel safe enough to open up and be yourself, with all your quirks and imperfections. To strengthen your emotional connection, you need time to intentionally connect. Here’s how you could do that:

  • 6. Take an interest in things your partner cares about – even if it stings that your chronic illness stops you from working, socializing or having fun right now. You can be happy for your loved one and feel sad for yourself at the same time. If you struggle to focus on conversations due to brain fog, choose one moment to be fully present, for example when your partner comes home from work, at dinner or before bed.
  • 7. Strengthen your bond with open-hearted talks. Instead of chatting about everyday things, swap the small talk for a more meaningful conversation every now and then. Dive deeper by asking open-ended questions and interested follow-up questions. Like this helpful article from Psyche puts it, “Be brave enough to share and kind enough to listen.” If you don’t know where to start, check out these conversation starters from famous relationship therapist Esther Perel.
  • 8. Show affection in any way you’re both comfortable with. Kiss each other good morning and good night, spoon in bed for a few minutes and smile when he/she comes back home to connect with your partner. Those small gestures of love can make more difference in your daily interactions than you may think.
  • 9. Express your feelings in a constructive way. According to renowned relationship researcher John Gottman, there are 4 relationship killers: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. When you want to share difficulties with your loved one, don’t attack their sense of self but use ‘I statements’ instead. For example, instead of saying “You never support me”, choose “I feel so alone when we don’t talk about how my illness affects my whole life.” You can check out more practical ideas on how to avoid these 4 common communication problems in this article from the Gottman Institute.
  • 10. Don’t depend only on your partner for emotional support and practical help. Life is not a movie, and one person cannot fulfill all your needs. When your chronic illness forces you to lean on people, see who in your social circle is willing and able to help out and which aids and tools you could use to support your independence, so you don’t get stuck in a caregiver dynamic with your lover.
24 Ideas to Connect with Your Partner When One of You is Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions
Photo by Mikhail Nilov via pexels.com

3. Connect over Cozy Dates

It can be challenging to find the energy and overcome your pain for a simple date at home. But, even if you do feel tired afterwards, connecting with your partner will probably also leave you emotionally refreshed.

Get inspired by these low-energy ideas for a cozy date:

  • 11. Go on a book date. Explore an (online) bookstore together, choose the perfect read for your partner, and curl up on the couch to read side-by-side. Even more romantic, read stories to each other, just like actor Hugh Jackman and his wife.
  • 12. Recreate a candlelight concert. Light lots of candles (safely of course), put your favorite acoustic music on and slow dance or simply cuddle on the couch.
  • 13. Shake things up a little! Do the things you normally do, but change the setting or time of day – preferably when you’re most likely to feel good. Swap the standard dinner and a movie for a breakfast date, or lunch and a matinee show. Take a shower together instead of separately, sleep in the living room for the night, or eat dinner outside on a nice day.
  • 14. Stuck in bed? Cozy up and listen to audiobooks together, host a movie marathon or enjoy a gentle foot rub. Savor that time together by finishing off with a special breakfast in bed the next morning.
  • 15. Have a friendly competition. Get your favorite board game out, grab your controllers for a round of Mario Partypick up the karaoke mike for a sing off or play some (adult) Twister. Good snacks will make the evening even better. And you could even decide beforehand which ‘prize’ the winner will get to make things even more interesting.
  • 16. A date outside of your home doesn’t have to take up all of your energy. Depending on your health, you could have a picnic in the park, go for a scenic ride and watch the sunset from a beautiful vantage point, or go out for ice cream.
  • 17. Make mocktails. Who says you can’t have a festive drink when alcohol is not the best option for you? Ring in the weekend together with a Watermelon Mojito, a Winter Shrub Cocktail or a Sober Sangria.
  • 18. Have a spa day at home. Take relaxation to the next level with a warm soak in the bath – with bubbles or DIY bath bombs of course! – treat each other to a massage or pamper yourselves with body lotion, facial mask or a manicure.
  • 19. Bring the world to your doorstep with a theme day. Pretend you’re in France for the day by having croissants for breakfasts, listening to Edith Piaf or Stromae, and wearing ballerinas. You could have a bonbon with your coffee, read the Da Vinci Code or The Paris Libraryenjoy a salade niçoise and watch Amélie or Midnight in Paris, whatever gives you that feeling of a mental getaway.
  • 20. Go stargazing. Head into the garden or onto the rooftop light at night, look up and see if you can spot any constellations or planets. If you have no idea what you’re looking at, these astronomical apps can help you identify the celestial bodies in the sky. And who knows, maybe you’ll catch a shooting star!
24 Ideas to Connect with Your Partner When One of You is Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions
Save these tips for later.

4. Explore New Ways to be Physically Intimate

Pain, fatigue and horrible symptoms, limited mobility, low libido and a lack of body confidence – all these obstacles can get in the way of being intimate with chronic illness. But with an understanding partner, there are other ways to explore physical intimacy:

  • 21. Make an effort to get in the mood. Constant pain, stress and worrying are not a turn-on, plus medications can also affect your libido. So don’t blame yourself if you need some time to get into the mood. Watch a sexy movie together, read an erotic story or send each other naughty texts throughout the day to build up the anticipation. And don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
  • 22. Set the scene by lighting a candle, putting on some soft music and wearing something you feel empowered, sexy or just at ease in. Sometimes swapping out of your standard clothes can help you get in the mood – especially if you spend a lot of time in bed in a non-sexual way.
  • 23. Explore sensual touch. There are so many more ways to be physically intimate than sex, and it would be a shame to push all sensual touch aside when having intercourse hurts too much or is too tiring. You can have a warm bath or shower together or let your hands wander up freely while cuddling up on the couch. Give a long, intimate kiss, enjoy a gentle foot rub or neck massage, or slow dance together, whatever you like.
  • 24. Experiment with comfortable sex positions. What’s comfortable, depends of course on your health, wants and needs, but these  disability-inclusive sex positions from The Mighty could be a good starting point. You can also let the healthy partner take on the most active role, if you’re both up for that. And don’t be shy to use pillows towels for support, explore accessible sex toys or try lubrication to make sex more comfortable.

For more in-depth advice on how to connect with your partner on a physical level despite health problems, you can read Let’s Talk About Sex: How to Deal with Intimacy Issues with Chronic Illness’

Living with chronic illness can put a strain on the best relationships. But with some creativity, patience and most of all understanding, you can still have cozy date nights, enjoy physical intimacy together and keep your emotional connection strong.

What helps you to connect with your partner when one of you is chronically ill? 

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