In Sickness and In Health: How to Keep Love Alive When You’re Chronically Ill

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 21 February 2016
  • 3 minute read
In Sickness and In Health: How to Keep Love Alive When You're Chronically Ill | The Health Sessions

“If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?”

– Chasing Cars, Snow Patrol

Love can be complicated under the easiest circumstances — let alone when chronic illness comes into play. 

When “in sickness and in health” becomes your daily reality instead of a promise you once made, it can put a serious strain on your relationship. And if you’re single, dating and finding a loving partner might feel totally undoable if you’re dealing with debilitating symptoms, unpredictable flare-ups and an uncertain future.

This article from The Atlantic eloquently describes the kind of dilemmas and obstacles chronically ill people face in their love life. Because, how do you even meet a potential partner when you’re housebound and struggling to do the simplest things? When do you tell your date about your health issues, fearing you might scare them off? How do you adjust to a new way of life when you or your spouse become severely ill with little chance of a full recovery?

Love in times of chronic illness requires open communication, understanding and a willingness to make it work from both parties. And even then it can be challenging. But with the right partner, love can also carry you through the toughest times.

With the right partner, love can also carry you through the toughest times.

So how can you keep love alive in the midst of hospital visits, a rollercoaster of emotions and all kinds of practical problems? I don’t have all the answers, but this is what I know:

Talk. Good, honest and open communication is essential in any relationship, and even more so when you’re facing difficulties. Share how you feel – the good, the bad, the ugly – without (self) blame or accusations or ‘nagging’. And when your partner talks, make an effort to really listen. We all long to be heard.

Try to understand each other’s experience and point of view, even if you can never fully know what it’s like to be in pain every moment of the day or to see the one you love suffer. Both of you are faced with a new situation, a situation that evokes so many different emotions. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. You’re entitled to feel sad, worried and misunderstood, to be angry at the world or envious of healthy couples. Just don’t confuse your feelings about the situation with how you feel about your partner.  

Create a new normal together. Chronic illness can turn your lives and relationships upside down. Dynamics are altered and you must find a new balance between (in)dependence and caregiving, between responsibilities and having fun, between your shared experiences and doing things separately. Only you two can decide what works best for you.

Find doable ways to have fun together. You might not be able to go on traditional date nights but with a little creativity you can still have a fabulous time together. Put your electronic devices away and enjoy an indoor picnic, watching movies in bed or playing board games. A romantic or playful atmosphere matters more than what you do. Even a simple kiss, cuddle or holding hands helps you stay connected.

Stay interested in your partner. When you’re absorbed by pain and problems, it can be hard to focus on much else or keep track of the developments in other people’s lives. Still, take a moment each day to ask your loved one what they’ve been up to and they are feeling.

How do you and your partner keep love alive when one of you suffers from chronic illness? What’s been the most important lesson or the hardest challenge for you?

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