Saturday, October 26, 2013

How Do You Deal With Health Issues In Your Relationship?

Have you ever dated someone with health issues? How about someone with heavy depression, anxiety, or something similar? My first long term relationship was challenged by the fact that my girlfriend had reoccurring tumors on the back of one of her legs. By the time we stopped dating, she had had 6-7 surgeries to deal with the issue, including 3 while we were together. In addition, towards the end of our relationship, her father developed some form of stomach cancer. I wasn't really equipped back then to face all of that. Perhaps it would have been different if we had a really strong connection, but we weren't the best match to begin with, and so when all the health issues cropped up, I struggled to be compassionate and supportive.

When I read this post today, I thought back to that relationship. And considered what I've learned since then.

Here's a short list of skills/qualities that I think are beneficial to sustaining healthy relationships, even when one partner is struggling.

1. Patience. It seems to me that no matter what else you do with your life, learning to cultivate true patience (as opposed to the grin and bear it kind) is essential to sustaining good relationships. One way to do this is through practices like meditation and slower forms of yoga. Another way specifically within a relationship is to pay attention to how you react to your partner's difficulties. If your partner gets sick, do you feel like your time is being wasted somehow? If your partner isn't able to go out on a fun date with you, do you feel slighted in any way? In other words, do you take things personally?

2. Impermanence. Recognizing and learning to embrace (or be ok with) the fact that nothing stays the same. Even the healthiest of folks will have days or weeks where they're run down, feeling depressed or confused, or are sick. That's all part of the deal in long term relationships.

3. Seeing health challenges as opportunities to learn. This one isn't easy. And in offering this, I'm not staying that, for example, you should stay with the person who is depressed for years for example. Or that you're obligated to become a lifelong caretaker for a partner who's increasing becoming disabled before your eyes. Many factors come into play. How long you've been together. The depth of your connection. Whether you've made a commitment (marriage or some other form) to each other or not. Regardless though, I have found that viewing health challenges as opportunities to learn has changed the way I handle illness in general. When I get sick now, I tend to accept it much faster. I slow down, and make the effort to take care of myself, and/or ask for help from others. Something I rarely did when I was younger. And this attitude spills over to when my partner gets sick or isn't feeling well. Offering support is an opportunity to grow your connection together. And being ok with not having much excitement for awhile is an opportunity to develop some more patience.

How about you? How do you deal with health challenges in a relationship?


  1. Interesting subject! In my recent relationship, at one point, I had to have emergency surgery with a ~month recovery period, had to be face-down 24x7 for a week, couldn't drive for two weeks etc. I was very impressed with the way my bf took care of me during that time. So impressed, in fact, that the memories of how he treated me helped me stay loyal to him until he ended things a year later, and overlook our issues and conflicts even when things started going downhill. (Not sure if that was a good way for me to react.)

    To your first question, yes there was one instance when I took things personally. It was a weird situation and I still don't know who was right and who was wrong. Just as I was packing my things to go to his place for the weekend, he texted me with the news that he was down with a cold, but that he still wanted me to come over. I spent the weekend, at his request, sitting next to him and being near him as he was down with a bad cold and fever. I didn't mind taking care of him, or feel that I was missing out, but I did have the thought in the back of my mind the whole time that he was giving me his cold and there was nothing I could do about it. Sure enough, two days later, I came down with the same cold, had to call in sick, both of us missed a party we'd been looking forward to (I decided I couldn't go as there were going to be young children present at the party, and he decided to stay with me and keep me company). It was really no big deal, but it could've ended much worse if I'd given the cold to my elderly parents, who lived close by. (my dad's cancer was really bad at that time and a cold was the last thing he needed.) I'm still wondering about that one. I know that, if I'd gotten sick first, I'd have gone out of my way to avoid giving him what I had. Just like I'd go out of my way to avoid giving it to my children or my parents. But maybe I'm wrong and a couple has to share their germs, and it's part of the whole couple experience?

  2. Yeah, I don't know about that one either. I tend to be like you when I'm ill, trying to avoid a lot of contact so as not to get others sick. But I think that can make it difficult for your partnership to grow with someone - if the line is drawn too hard and fast. I've learned to let my significant other take care of me some, and not worry as much about the "them getting sick part." And I also make it clear I need some time alone to heal. That having someone "fuss" over me for hours on end isn't helping.

    I think balancing things on both side is pretty important when it's something smaller, like a cold. Of course, when there's a serious illness, balance goes out the window. But with these more minor, temporary situations, aiming to not overdo as a caregiver, and allowing some care to happen as the sick person, is helpful.

  3. thanks for sharing! Actually, I feel this blog.. I have been there.. I want to be alone and avoiding contacts but its didn't take took 24 hours for me to be alone and make thing clear and accepted.. life must go on.. and If GOD will give me another one.. I would be glad.. and also, I found Magnetic dating nice and so nice.. :)

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