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Real Relationships Involving Illness Don't Quite Measure Up to the Movies

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One of the main wedding vows that many couples say to each other are the immortal words: “I promise to love you in sickness and in health.”

How realistic is it though to actually expect our partners to uphold this vow?

When entering into a relationship or a marriage, we marry the person we are with now. We don’t marry the sick person or the illness.

Do partners, when standing at an altar, or in the middle of proposing, really consider the future of living with a sick mate?

Do they really understand what tolls will be put on the relationship when their partner is too sick to go out? Or if they are unable to have children because of their illness, unable to walk because of pain?

Of course, we all expect our partners to be there and love us and help us and look after us, but the reality of this is a lot different, and is it really fair to expect this?

Human beings are first and foremost selfish. We expect our partners to be there forever, but when the illness starts to take over and we no longer become the person they made those vows to, can we really expect them to stay?

Are the great romance novels and movies to blame for giving unrealistic relationship expectations?

In “P.S I Love You,” Gerard Butler’s character dies, but still writes love letters to his partner to help her get over the loss and helps her move forward. Most people would have to be pretty cold to not be moved by this. #RelationshipGoals!

The Fault in Our Stars” is a particularly poignant film for this blog because it is one of the very few times where thyroid cancer is featured. The two main characters are brought together through illness, and even though the ending is not a happy one, they have a relationship that literally brings a tear to the eye. Even though it is a love story revolving around young love, it is still a love story.

Even Disney films I believe are somewhat to blame for our often warped sense of how relationships should be. Cinderella gets Prince Charming, Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty” is awoken by true love’s first kiss, and Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” gets legs in order to live her happily ever after.

I wonder, would these amazing romance stories we have grown up with be the same if Ariel had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, or Aurora with autoimmune thyroid disease? What if she had been awoken by true love’s kiss, only to return to bed, stating she was still exhausted?!

Would the Prince Charmings or female leads in the love stories of days gone by really have stuck around if their partners were taking pain medications every few hours or needed help going down the stairs? I don’t remember Mr. Darcy telling Elizabeth he would always accompany her to her Department of Work and Pensions appointments to get her disability payment!

Joking aside, it is difficult for partners to truly understand what they are getting themselves into when they date someone with chronic illness. We can’t explain to ourselves sometimes how we feel, so how can we expect others to understand?

Sex and illnesses pose another issue in many relationships. As a side effect of many medications, loss of libido is one of them. This also comes from just generally feeling too tired, or being in too much pain. It is hard to get “turned on” when all we want to do is turn off!

This can put a huge amount of pressure on even the strongest of couples. If both parties don’t have a similar same sex drive, this will undoubtedly put the couple out of odds with each other. It may result in the “well” partner resenting the “sick” partner because they feel they are not showing them affection. Alternatively, the “sick” partner may feel like they are disappointing their other half, believing they can’t give them what they want.

On the other side of the coin though, illness in a relationship can also bring out the best in people. It can bring out a caring side in even the toughest of people.

In many relationships, the term “in sickness and in health” really brings the couple together. It can help a couple grow together. Many partners will relish the chance to become the provider/carer for their sick partner and will do anything and everything they can to make their spouse feel better.

This does not have to be like the movies, where every day the non-sick partner performs some hugely romantic gesture for their ill partner. For the chronically sick, these huge gestures normally result from lots of smaller gestures – such as a massage, getting chocolate, or doing the vacuuming!

We all like to watch the spellbinding romances on the silver screen. We may even sometimes imagine what it would be like to be Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, or Cinderella and Prince Charming, or even Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy! (Bridget probably being the slightly more realistic story in terms of relationships. I think all spoonies can admit to owning a Bridget Jones pair of pants. A necessity in many of our lives, for many different reasons!)

bridget jones holding up underwear

Whatever the relationship – either a romance-filled, novel-worthy relationship or a Bridget Jones, big-knicker type of relationship – it is the small things that count. When in a relationship with someone who is chronically ill, showing them appreciation, respect and trying to understand their illness are the most blockbuster and movie-worthy things you can do.

hollywood movie

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Thinkstock photo via yelet.

Originally published: June 15, 2017
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