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Maintaining a Healthy Relationship With a Chronically Ill Loved One

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So you have a friend or family member who has a chronic illness. It can be difficult to keep your relationship alive and healthy with that person. It may take more effort on your part to be in their lives and have them in yours. Here are a few tips that might help.

If you asked someone with a chronic illness to go to some special event you are going to and they had to turn you down, please don’t take it personally. There are dozens of factors as to why someone might say “no” and saying no could be agonizing for them. That person might really want to go to your company BBQ with you and think it sounds like fun. But, for many of us with chronic illnesses, doing that may cause us to be sick for days. As much as we may want to get out of the house and go, perhaps the cost is just too great this time. It might not be the next time, though.

Or maybe we really want to go to your baby shower but know if we do, all the perfume we would be exposed to would greatly reduce the chance that we could actually be there the day you have your baby, and that is more important to us. It’s fun getting to see you when you are in town, but maybe we’ve had a rough week and just don’t have the energy or stamina to even take a shower, let alone hold a conversation with you, as dear as you are to us. We know our bodies and we know what we can and cannot do, what we are willing to risk and how it will likely affect us. Please respect that.

We recognize you are hurt and angry and disappointed that we can’t do the thing you asked us to do. So are we. In fact, in addition to those emotions, we also probably feel a lot of guilt that we can’t be the person we used to be. Keep in mind that we may likely feel bad for a while too; during the time of the event we may feel angry at ourselves and our bodies for betraying us, and afterwards we may feel sad when everyone is posting pictures on social media. Some of us may enjoy seeing the pictures, getting a taste of what we missed out on and seeing the special event, but there is also that slap-in-the-face reminder of what our lives are like now contrasted by what they used to be.

It is OK to feel sad or hurt or angry. Those are normal human emotions, and having a loved one with a chronic illness can be an emotional venture. What I implore you to do, though, is to not allow those feelings to drive you away. Being hateful about the situation doesn’t help anyone involved. Not inviting us to events usually isn’t the right thing either. (Unless, of course, your loved one has requested that.)

Trying to use guilt to get someone to go against what they know is best for their health isn’t a good idea either. Instead, perhaps you could try something like asking your loved one if there is a way to accommodate them at the event; if there isn’t, perhaps ask if there is another way you can spend some time with them that won’t be too draining. Phone calls, live chats and video calls are good ideas for some. A one-on-one visit might be the best way to stay connected, or scheduling some time together at an odd time of day (some of us have energy levels that wax and wane differently than others) or at a different location could be the ticket. You won’t know if you don’t ask. And if your loved one is outspoken or courageous enough to request an accommodation, please honor that and work with them to try to find a happy medium. Remember, they probably want to be a part of your life as much as you want to be a part of theirs. It might take a bit more effort or thinking outside the box, but in the end it will be worth it. I promise!

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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem.

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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