10 Ways I Balance My Chronic Illness and Relationship
Romantic love. Ah…Roses, giggles, and that butterfly feeling! I’m sure everyone who’s ever been in a relationship can agree that it’s not all sunshine every single day. Every relationship goes through its natural dips and bumps, and some more than others if different obstacles pop up along the way. A personal obstacle I’ve faced is chronic illness.
Facing Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome is by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through, and it doesn’t exactly make it easy for a relationship to flourish and flow. But I’m an extremely lucky lady to say that despite everything, my boyfriend and I have managed to work it out so far.
I know that unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for everyone. Situations can be too draining sometimes, and sometimes things just don’t work out. If it’s not meant to be then it’s not meant to be. Never ever feel guilty if your relationship didn’t work. Marriages break up over this stuff! But if you’re one of the lucky ones, like me, you and your partner will still be toughing it out, but you’ll also have fun.
So here are some tips for giving your relationship its best chance through chronic illness:
1. Communicate. A lot of chronic illnesses are also invisible illnesses, which means it makes it extremely hard for your partner to tell if you’re having a good day or a bad day. To avoid disappointment down the track, or sadness if they haven’t been able to pick up that you’re having a bad day- communicate! Your partner isn’t a mind reader.
2. Encourage your lover to continue being independent, even if it hurts. This is an extremely hard one. If you’re sick, chances are you feel like you’re missing out on everything. And the reality is you may be missing out on a lot, such as working, university, parties, travel, socializing, and exercising. As hard as it is, try not to look at it as your forever. The even harder thing is your partner is most likely going to be living life if they’re well. They’ll be going out, traveling, working or studying right in front of you. But of course you want your partner to be happy, so encourage it. If you were well they’d want the same for you.
3. Be honest. You can’t pretend you’re fine 24/7. It’s OK to be happy for your partner, but at times there will be some other feelings floating around, like jealousy and guilt. For example, when my boyfriend had his 21 birthday, I was over the moon happy for him and helped with organizing and decorating during the weeks leading up to it. But afterwards, I told him that I felt really guilty because I was upset that I’d missed out on my own 21 birthday. Another example: My boyfriend graduating from university. It was another slap in the face of a dream I once had and that seemed so out of reach for me at that moment. As awful as these feelings are, every time I have opened up to my boyfriend its always felt so much better. It’s not pleasant for either of us, but it brings us even closer and we have a pretty deep understanding of each other now.
4. Be creative. Let’s be honest – nothing ever goes to plan when illness is involved! This can make it extremely tough when you want to have fun together. If I’m not well enough for a date, we’ll cancel and do something super easy but still fun. The ideas are endless. We can watch our favorite movies together, cook something simple and yummy, sit outside together, or snuggles and chats are also always a great option.
5. Intimacy. Physical intimacy can be so hard to achieve if you’re still really sick. For a lot of illness fighters, sex will be off limits, or in much smaller doses. Or sometimes you’ll go through great phases or not so great phases, depending on what’s going on. If this is the case, try and be as honest as you can with your lover. Explain what you think you can manage at that moment, and update them along the way of your recovery. Ask them about their feelings around it as well and always make sure they’re OK with everything. For those that are still very ill, the relationship may be quite one-sided for a while. When I was bedridden and house-bound, my boyfriend was extremely understanding. He would come over and just lie next to me on my bed, and either chat to me for five minutes before I fell back asleep. Or, if it was an amazing day, he’d lie with me and we’d be able to watch a bit of TV together. Then I’d fall asleep again and he’d just hug me.
6. Be aware of your behavior. Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing when really we’re not. A lot of these behaviors can be self-defense mechanisms. Whenever I got really sick or had a very down period of health, such as a flare, a crash, etc. I would pull right away from my boyfriend and even push him away. It took me a long time to realize that this doesn’t achieve anything. It makes my boyfriend feel terrible, and our relationship starts to suffer quickly. My boyfriend also stopped inviting me to some things that he knew would be too much for me, until one day I explained that this made me feel awful and left out. I explained that I’d rather him ask me and I decide whether I’m up to it or not. He now invites me to events small and big without hesitation!
7. Take a break. If times get super tough, which they do sometimes, it’s OK to take a break. If you decide that it’s what you both want to do then make sure to set really clear boundaries so you’re on the same page and know where you stand. Thankfully we’ve only had to do this a few times, and by the end of them, we always have a much better idea of what we both want.
8. Seek help. It’s just as hard for both parties- healthy one and sick one. Please seek help if you need it. Whether that be confiding in a trusted friend or family member, seeking counseling, or going to a support group. Once you’re feeling on top of things, it’s bound to have an affect on your lover and then you’re able to give your love too.
9. Surprise each other. The little things really matter, especially if you go through times where that’s all you really can do. Write a little note, cook a meal, make a CD, buy tickets to a gig for your partner and remind them of how much you appreciate them and most of all love them.
10. Dream together. It might not be possible right now, but who’s to say it won’t be in a few weeks, months, or a year? My boyfriend and I love planning holidays together. Make them achievable for you. I thought I’d never go overseas again when I was ill, but I managed to go to Bali last year, and now we’re planning a trip to New Zealand. Dream on!
I’m sending all my love and strength to every single person who is either sick themselves and in a relationship, or is well but in a relationship with someone who is sick. Your support, commitment and overwhelming love is incredible.
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