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What It Means to Sign Up for a Relationship With Someone in Poor Health

I struggle with Crohn’s disease, but I do my best to not let it interfere with my life. However, it is always especially frustrating for me when it does. I’m often canceling plans, avoiding delicious foods because I feel sick or I know they will upset me, or I’m spending hours on the phone calling doctors, insurance providers, and pharmacists.

Although I do my best to not let this chronic condition define me, it will always be a part of my life. Recently, it’s been especially prominent, and it wasn’t until I read an article the other day that I realized just how much it was interfering with my relationship with my partner.

My partner and I have been dating for over two years now. He’s always been supportive of me, and helpful whenever I was feeling sick. But while I’ve been struggling for months to get things under control, those little efforts seem to become commonplace.

I forget that my partner, as an independent person, isn’t required to help me feel good. Sure, as a partner, we are supposed to stick together through all life’s challenges, even if that means most of those challenges are hitting me. But I forget that his devotion and help isn’t just affecting me. It’s affecting his life, too.

It was when I came across an article from a small blog, The Most Overlooked Characteristic of Who You Want to Marry, that I had a bit of an epiphany moment.

“Few people consider sickness and suffering when picking a mate. They consider how the other person might look in the morning or what bad habits they might have. They consider what offspring they could produce or what extended family they might bring to the reunion. Yet few people ever consider what is a vital question — can I suffer with this person?”

Although my partner and I have no immediate plans to legally “tie the knot,” I still believe the concept should be applied to any long-term relationship. I may not be on my death bed, but I am suffering on a fairly regular basis. Is my partner willing to sit through my suffering? Chronic pain caused by my Crohn’s comes and goes, and depression, distraction, and crankiness are common side effects I struggle with; and in turn, he has to experience the outcome.

“Beware: not everyone suffers well.”

I certainly don’t suffer well, and I rarely spend a flare-up with a smile on my face. And yet my partner is still willing to grab painkillers, or my heat pad, when I’m curled in a ball, miserable from my body attacking itself. I’m sure I’ve been a burden to him, but he’s never complained.

The more I sat back and thought about it, the more I considered how little things caused by my condition got in the way of our life together.

My common struggles with acid reflux, or GERD, resulted in nights were we couldn’t snuggle up to each other. I would have to lie upright for hours just to be comfortable.

Or every spring and fall, when allergies season causes my immune system to spike, and I would often receive a more frequent dose of immunosuppressants. Every time around this year, I would also become ill with the latest version of the flu. Within a week, my partner would also have it. It almost feels like dating me is a hazard to anyone’s health. I feel like I should have a sign: “Warning! Dating me means guarantees you’ll get the flu every season!”

There are plenty of other instances: Leaving friend’s birthday parties early so I could go home and curl up. Spending time on family vacations in the hotel because I was too sick to sightsee. Or frequently making my partner wait while I used the facilities for far longer than a normal person would.

Another common side effect I feel is guilt, and every instance of my illness getting in the way of his life just feeds into it. Yet, through it all, I still get a kiss and an “I love you” whenever I succumb to a bout of pain. I may not suffer well, but my partner is more than willing to love me and care for me through it all.

As I contemplated all these instances, I realized I shouldn’t feel guilty. My body will feel like a burden to me and anyone else that decides to live with me. Dating me simply means there’s going to be a few more bumps in the road.

However, I will always, always, be grateful for my partner. He has done everything and more to make me feel comfortable and loved. It’s no wonder that I’ve had feelings of complacency in recent months. He has signed up for my illness and now he helps make me feel normal.

Now I have to ask myself: Could I return the favor if our roles were switched? Or if we were both struggling?

I just hope that if anything happens down the road, I can reflect the same level of devotion he has shown me.

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