How To Help A Partner With Chronic Illness

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A chronic illness can be rough on both the person with it and their loved ones. Nobody wants to see a loved one suffer, and most people want to help a partner with a chronic illness. But if you haven't been through something similar yourself, it can be very hard to know how to do that, especially while also experiencing the challenges of having a partner with a chronic illness.

"Partners of individuals with chronic illnesses are often over-worked and neglected," psychotherapist Ruschelle Khanna, LCSW, tells Bustle. "They are required to become medical experts just like the person going through the illness. They are required to be fully understanding of mental health and cognitive symptoms that can be confusing and hard to watch. In terms of how they can be more supportive, I would emphasize that they also focus on their own self-care. Caregiver burnout is real, leading to possible mistreatment of the person being cared for."

In addition, people should believe their loved ones when they express difficulty completing daily tasks. "For partner caregivers, it is important to believe that this is a real experience and to try to find accommodations such as someone to help with housekeeping if possible," Khanna says.

Speaking as someone with a chronic illness, here are some things our partners can do to support us.

1. Be Patient

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Healing doesn’t happen overnight. And often, when someone asks us if we’re better yet, it comes off as if they care more about taking the stress of worrying about us off themselves than honoring our own process. We’re doing our best to get as well as we can, and being pressured to get better faster makes us feel like we’re failing our loved ones.

2. Believe Them

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There are few things as awful as not only being in a ton of physical discomfort but also not being unable to find help or sympathy. Especially with symptoms like fatigue or brain fog that may not sound that bad on the outside, people often assume people with chronic illnesses are exaggerating or being weak by talking about the severe impact of their illnesses.

But we have no reason to exaggerate, and the fact that we live with illnesses every day proves that we are not weak. We deserve to feel heard and receive sympathy. You might not understand what we’re going through, but at least understand that we are going through something and it’s as terrible as we’re making it out to be.

3. Do Your Research

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Nobody wants to have to explain their illness to people who could easily google it. Not taking the time to learn about the basics comes off as if you don’t care. If you really want to show you care, research things that might help alleviate your partner’s symptoms — and if there’s something you can do, like make them a particular food or drink or give them a massage, offer to do it. You might even suggest possible treatments they might look into. Dealing with a chronic illness is overwhelming, and it’s much easier when you feel like you’re dealing with it as a team.

4. Don’t Blame Them For Their Symptoms

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Having a partner with a chronic illness can be really difficult to deal with, and you’re allowed to express that. But keep in mind that this was not your partner’s choice, and what they’re going through is even worse than what you are. You can talk about the challenges you’re each experiencing while helping each other work through them rather than antagonizing each other.

5. Remember The Little Things

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The same things that would cheer your partner up when they’re feeling down about something else will also make living with an illness less painful for them. Offer to help out extra around the house, get them their favorite food, or do anything else that will take a burden off their shoulders or make them feel good. When you’re in physical discomfort day in and day out, having one less thing to think about is a big deal.

6. Encourage Them

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Whether or not you can see it, your partner is being extremely strong and brave just to face each day with their illness. So let them know how amazing they are and how much you admire them and believe in their ability to get through this. Things can start to look pretty bleak if all you have to base your view of the future on is the present. Reminding us that there is a brighter future ahead gives us the motivation and strength to work toward it.

7. Remind Them There Is More To Them

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Also don’t forget to remind your partner of all the other things you love about them. They are much more than their illness, but it’s easy to forget that when they’re dealing with the illness nonstop. So, tell them how beautiful and sexy and funny they are, and take them on dates where they get to do things they love. The more they feel like normal, healthy people, the more they will become that way.

Since having a partner with a chronic illness can be a challenge, you might also consider getting support for yourself from a therapist or another mental health professional. It’s common to feel confused or overwhelmed, and you both deserve all the help you can get.