Living with a chronic illness at a young age is uniquely challenging. It affects every part of your life—finances, work, hobbies, mental health, relationships—all of it. It's usually incurable, painful, expensive and misunderstood.
Finding a romantic partner can be even more difficult than it already is because you have to strike a balance between taking it easy and safely pushing your boundaries. But it's not all up to you. If you are dating someone with a chronic illness or if you have a chronic illness and need some ideas, take some pointers from my boyfriend. Whether he knows it or not, he does things every day that make me feel loved by accommodating my illness.
He acknowledges my experience.
Acknowledgment is probably the best gift you can possibly give me. As someone who looks perfectly fine on the outside, I often worry that people don't believe me when I share how difficult it can be to live with chronic pain. He knows how challenging it can be and doesn't minimize my struggles. Seriously, if you don't read anything else on this list—remember this one!
He’s always down for a nap.
When your body is constantly attacking itself, you tend to get pretty run down. So, resting up and taking a nap is a blessing and a necessity. Some of my favorite time spent together is curled up in bed watching Netflix and maybe dozing off every so often.
We find dates that I can handle.
We have to keep things simple—think of going to a movie or going to dinner or even just going for a short walk. These dates may seem run-of-the-mill but for me, they're exciting and infinitely enjoyable because even these aren't always accessible. And the times when we can do really cool things like go to the beach or take a small trip are just that more special.
He tries my super healthy, weird diet restriction food and at least pretends to like it.
With diet restrictions, my food often involves substitutions that may not sound appealing (like vegan cheese). Cooking isn't something I always have the energy for, but when I do, he always tries what I've made and compliments me.
He laughs at my dark humor.
I'm usually described as "quiet," "cute" and "motherly." So, it can take people by surprise when my true, rather dark sense of humor comes out. I think it still surprises my boyfriend too, but he will shake his head and laugh along with me. My chronic illness or mental health is usually the brunt of these jokes and laughing about it is one of the ways I cope.
He’s patient when I’m moving slowly because of chronic pain.
I know I'm only 25, but sometimes chronic pain means I move like I'm 80. My boyfriend is someone with a lot of energy and can move pretty fast, but he always slows down to my pace and/or waits for me to catch up as I slooowly make my way down the stairs. It's such a small thing, but so important.
He encourages me to talk about it.
Vulnerability is not my strong suit. But whenever I do openly talk about the details of how a symptom is affecting me or what having that lab test was like or what it felt like when that person made that really insensitive comment, he listens and encourages me to talk more.
If there’s an issue, I know I can just tell him.
There's a learning curve when it comes to chronic illness, especially when you're in your twenties. I know that if there's ever anything that I need from him or if there's something that he's not aware of, I just have to tell him. He can't read my mind and I know his heart is in the right place. So, it's easy to adjust, forgive and move on.
He goes to appointments with me.
When it's possible, he'll come with me to my doctor's appointments. It helps bring him into my world a little bit and helps me feel supported.
He believes in my strength.
When you care about someone, it's easy to want to fix everything for them. But when the problem is an incurable chronic illness, that just isn't possible. He knows that I'm in charge of my well-being and trusts that I will make educated decisions to the best of my ability. There's no coddling or pity. Even during my toughest times when I doubt myself, he still knows I have the strength to get through and come out better on the other side.
He takes out the trash.
Sometimes, trash can accumulate in my room from order-in meals we shared together or just from life. If I have a full bag, he'll take it out as he leaves. He might not even realize how helpful that is—it's a long walk to the dumpster when you're in pain.
We maintain a physical relationship.
Intimacy can sometimes be challenging with chronic pain, but understanding and good communication are key (aren't they always?). And that doesn't always mean sex. It's important to just cuddle or hug sometimes too.
We run errands together.Giphy
It may not seem super romantic, but with our busy schedules sometimes running errands has to happen during our time together. We usually don't get everything done (the list is neverending, right?) but it feels good to know you helped your partner and it keeps me accountable (sometimes).
We read together.
I'm a bookworm and he enjoys when I read out loud so he can picture the story. It's a low-key, intimate activity we can do together that doesn't take too much energy. It can take a while to get through a book, but I love being able to share a hobby of mine without over-exerting myself.
He gives me massages.Giphy
Who doesn't like a massage from their partner? But when chronic pain means some nasty knots, it takes on a new level of care.
He drives everywhere.
I actually don't mind driving, but when we're together he almost always takes the wheel. Usually, this is just a sweet courtesy—a little testament that he cares for me. But sometimes, it does double-duty and helps me conserve energy when I'm not feeling well.
He talks to me about his life.
It's important for him to understand and accommodate my illness and it's equally important that I understand and am there for his challenges. Just because I'm ill doesn't mean I have to be the center of attention. It's imperative to me that I can be there for him just as he is there for me. That's what makes a partnership.
When you find someone who you know loves you, illness and all, it's worth celebrating. My boyfriend has surprised me over and over with his sincerity and understanding. I hope you can celebrate your own relationships and find joy in what works for you and your partner.
- My Chronic Illness Completely Changed My Dating Life | SELF ›
- In Sickness and in Health: Love and Chronic Illness ›
- 4 Tangible Ways to Love Someone With a Chronic Illness | The Mighty ›
- How to Love Someone With a Chronic Illness | The Mighty ›
- To the Person Who Is Falling in Love With Someone With Chronic ... ›
- Love in the Time of Chronic Illness - The Atlantic ›
- What It's Like To Fall In Love When You Have A Chronic Illness ... ›
- Can You Have Love and a Chronic Illness? | Rewire ›