Managing a relationship when you’re chronically ill

The spoonie community is having a debate at the moment. How much should we thank the people who choose to spend their life with someone who has a chronic health condition?

In case you haven’t heard the two sides of the debate, it’s pretty simple.

One side of the argument is that having a partner/spouse with chronic pain massively impacts your life and means you end up as some kind of lover-slash-carer. Chronic illness sufferers should therefore be eternally grateful to the people who stay with us, and give high praise to those who love us in spite of our disabilities.

The other side of the argument is the backlash to the above; people with chronic pain are not some kind of second-rate partner, we’re still human beings with opinions, values, likes and dislikes, and we’re not a project that you deserve a medal for spending time with.

Which side do you fall?

Personally, I think both are true. But I think that both are true of any person in any relationship, not just those that involve chronic illness.

Don’t we all think our partners are saints for staying with us in spite of all our awful traits? And don’t we all have moments where we think we deserve a medal for putting up with our partners when they’re being particularly annoying?


We all have our baggage and we all make sacrifices for our loved ones. When R and I first got together, he told me something that has stayed with me ever since. He said, we don’t have to be all things to all people. Just because I can’t go for long walks doesn’t mean R can’t – he just has to do that with someone that isn’t me. R refuses to go to spas because he doesn’t like being stuck in weird places with strangers – and apparently that’s what a spa is – so I have relaxing days out with friends instead.

I’m using flippant examples, of course. It can be difficult to be with someone who’s in pain a lot of the time, I know that. But I think we can all be difficult in lots of different ways, and surely it is more about how we handle these difficulties than whether or not they exist in the first place.

When it comes to managing chronic pain, my resilience is the most important thing to me. And it’s about being able to find that balance between sharing your struggles with your loved ones and complaining about every ache and pain you feel. If I articulated my pain every time I felt it, I’d drive myself crazy never mind everyone else. It’s why I started this blog and it’s why the chronic pain online community is so good; there are people who understand and are happy to talk for days if you need to release your pain and frustration, so you don’t have to let it consume you and your relationship. I have a list of effective coping strategies which means I know how to look after myself and make things more manageable without having to tell everyone in the room about it. And I know that when I need a bit of extra help my husband is there to help – just as I am there to help him.

I think the only element of this that I find challenging is perception. I know that people think my husband is amazing because he copes with me and my pain. And he is amazing, of course he is, but it frustrates me that people think we have a life that is particularly hard. It is no harder than coping with depression, anxiety, fatigue, children, a job you hate, a lack of motivation, an eating disorder, old age, stress… the list goes on. Life is challenging for everyone; my pain hasn’t created a life that is difficult for me or my husband and I would hate it if people thought that I had.

How does your health impact your relationship? Which side of the argument do you fall?

26 comments on “Managing a relationship when you’re chronically ill

  1. Still single, unfortunately. Dating is hard enough, but then you had chronic illnesses to the equation and it seems nearly impossible. I would love to have a partner instead of always feeling like I’m going through things alone. And that’s with anything. Good or bad.

  2. It’s been hard.. I’ve had a lot of failed relationships. Been divorced. I’m engaged now, been together a few years but we have a lot of fights that center around my chronic pain/fatigue and illness. It sucks. Makes you feel like such a burden, especially when you can’t work.

    • I think not being able to work makes a big difference. When I’ve had long periods of work, I find that I get more frustrated and it puts more pressure on our relationship. Good luck, it is hard but you’re not a burden.

  3. Both are true in my relationship. I think I’m an equal partner, but to me that doesn’t mean we split every task 50/50, it means some tasks my husband does 100% (like washing the cars) and some I do 100% (like remembering birthdays and ordering gifts). I don’t think anyone deserves special praise for being with me, but at the same time, I am so grateful my husband still wants to be with me.

    It probably helps that my husband has had his own physical challenges (bad accident, had to learn to walk again) and knows what it’s like when your body doesn’t behave how you want, but I think it also helps that I let him know I appreciate him, and I find ways to help out.

    • I totally agree with all of that. There is so much life admin to do and I do all that, whilst he does the more manual tasks. In all relationships you should break up the tasks so that things are equal and do that based on likes and strengths – surely that’s just common sense!

  4. I love my husband more everyday for dealing with my chronic pain. Although, I must agree with you…there are things about all of us that we all need to deal with.
    Our vows covered it all… sickness, health, wealth, poor, better or worst….it all comes around at some point and we deal with it.

  5. I agree with you that both perspectives are important. I think the problem with modern culture is the ‘black or white, all or nothing’ thinking, when in general life it’s really in between. Yes I’m grateful to my partner for being my caregiver, and yes I’m grateful to have someone who is willing to ‘take me on’. At the same time I believe that we’re all worthy of love and life with or without illness, and as my partner said to me, every relationship has issues to deal with even if it’s not sickness. At the end of the day, every relationship dynamic is unique, which makes the world all the more interesting 🙂

    • Exactly. I was always grateful for someone to take me on – even prior to illness. Isn’t that all any of us hope for? We all have our challenges – sickness is just one of the possibilities!

  6. Pingback: Would You Date a Person with Chronic Illness?

  7. I think my hangup is that my boyfriend doesn’t understand why I feel like a burden. I think, well, if he saw things from my perspective, he would see why I feel like he should think I’m awful to be with… this is totally irrational, and maybe somewhere along the way someone else (whom I have in mind) taught me that because I have a chronic illness, I can’t expect to be treated well.

    • It’s great that your boyfriend doesn’t see you as a burden, but it’s also important that you don’t see yourself in that way. You absolutely deserve to be treated well and should definitely expect to be treated well. You’re still a person, with likes and dislikes, values, passions, skills, experiences and plans. 😘

  8. My chronic pain isn’t who I am any more than it is when someone has cancer. No one would be saying that my husband deserved a medal for staying with me if I had cancer – they’d all be rallying around to help us! That being said, I too fall somewhere in the middle. While I don’t think he deserves accolades for loving me (although I did write a blog post about how amazing he is), I do make sure that I make the effort to make sure he knows how much it means to be that he picks up all the slack. I make sure he knows that I notice and appreciate all the extra things he has to take on. Because we’re a team 😊. Excellent post!

  9. I needed to read this! I’m 21 and have been sick since 14. I’ve never been in a relationship and I always think who will love me with everything wrong with me? I hope you can check out my blog too.

  10. I love this! I am a spoonie myself and my husband doesn’t treat me any different. I believe this post is a thought provoking post and is awesome. I am married with 3 sons. I love this post so much.

    • OH and to answer the question: it has its impact when I’m down in the hospital its tough but my husband doesn’t look at me as a second rate partner just because of my medical and physical disabilities. I feel like I understand both sides however primarily I fall on the 2nd one you mentioned. I believe everyone carries some type of baggage and honestly baggage relating to unfaithfulness to me weighs more than what limitations my medical and physical disabilities do. I do my best to maintain my independence for me, however my husband is happy as long as I’m happy. I have PTSD and that is tougher sometimes to deal with however my husband understands completely. I haven’t met someone who isn’t sick and understands without me having to explain things.

    • Thanks so much for this lovely comment!

  11. Of course I just launched my blog and I am finally able to discover other people with common blogging things. I am loving finding other seasoned bloggers that put words together better so I can learn from y’all! I love reading your posts

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