Body & Fitness

Loving your partner through a chronic illness

How to keep your relationship strong when life takes a bad turn.

When chronic illness strikes someone you love, it’s normal to feel helpless and alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’ve been touched by long-lasting illness, here’s how to move forward in your relationship without crashing at the first hurdle.

Be honest and open

If one partner is suffering with chronic illness, it’s important to be able to have an honest conversation with each other. “All successful relationships are based on trust, and trust cannot grow if there is a big secret or a big absence of honesty in the middle of it,” psychological therapist and couples counsellor Annie Gurton says. “You should always be honest with each other, and clearly communicate your feelings and needs.”

Share grievances

Air your concerns as much as you can, especially if you’re the person with the illness. “While no-one wants to be a bore, it’s unhealthy to suffer in silence. So be clear and direct from the outset,” Annie says. “Diseases and illnesses come with degrees of seriousness. There are those that are unfortunate but the prognosis is more frustrating than anything else, then there are those that mean life is going to be somewhat restricted, and then there are those where the prognosis is debilitating and increasing in dependency.”

If one partner is suffering from the kind of illness that’s going to deteriorate, and the level of care is likely to increase, Annie says he or she may need to consider how they’ll feel having that kind of effect on someone else’s life and find a way to come to terms with that.

Create a plan

It’s a good idea to arrange a plan to assist living with the disease. That plan should include details such as coping skills, dealing with finances, caring for children, intimacy and learning to let go of a past that once involved good health. “Core values may also need to change,” Annie says. “So from being the sort of person who once said, ‘I’m strong and I can cope with anything,’ the sufferer may have to learn to say, ‘I’m no longer invincible and will need to accept help from others from time to time, but that’s okay.’”

Strengthen your social connections

Social isolation is a serious problem for those suffering from chronic illness. One way to avoid it is to embrace strong friendships, which can act as a buffer against loneliness. “Try reaching out to old friends, and explain to them what’s happened. While some may find it too hard and confronting, others can be a great support for your mental health over the months and years ahead,” Annie says.

But if you’re the caregiver, it’s important you also feel free to socialise alone without feeling guilty. Alternatively, both partners could join a support group. “They really know what it’s like, and their advice can be invaluable because it comes from a place of experience and compassion,” Annie tells.

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