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How to Help a Partner with Chronic Illness

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Having a partner who is living with a chronic illness of any kind can add stress to a relationship, especially if you have no point of reference for what they’re going through. After all, if you’ve never dealt with something like the pain of fibromyalgia, or medications that have side effects like dry mouth or weight gain, how can you fully understand what you partner is dealing with?

While we can’t get into each other’s heads, there are certain communication tools that can help you bond with your partner while they’re dealing with a difficult medical issue. Here, Laurel Steinberg, PhD, a New York-based relationship expert and therapist, shares tools that can provide support to your partner and even strengthen your relationship in the process.

How to Help When Your Partner Has a Chronic Illness

Share the illness.

“It’s helpful to relate to your partner as if you both have the illness and share talking about the symptoms and burdens that come with it,” Dr. Steinberg says. “Make it a point to attend doctor’s appointments and learn how to modify your lifestyle so that your partner feels taken care of and physically feels as good as possible.”

Research symptoms relievers.

Dealing with the myriad of symptoms that can often come with a chronic illness — or the medications needed to treat it — can be dizzying. Help your partner feel supported by researching over-the-counter or natural remedies that have been shown to provide relief. For instance, if your partner is taking medications that could be causing dry mouth, Biotene Moisturizing Spray can provide soothing and moisturizing dry mouth symptom relief. If your partner is dealing with an arthritis flare-up, consider booking them a massage. While you should always speak with your doctor before attempting to treat symptoms on your own, being proactive when it comes to your partner’s pain can really take a load off their shoulders.

Be open to intimacy.

“Don’t treat your partner like an ill person,” says Dr. Steinberg. “Instead, view them as a person with a problem, and don’t assume that they’re not interested in intimacy, or other things they used to enjoy doing with you.” Make sure the lines of communication are open, so that you can both enjoy life together, even if you need to make some modifications to do so.

Remember to be flexible.

Having a chronic illness can sometimes mean plans have to change on a dime, or your partner opts to stay home while you go out. Make every effort to live life together, but be understanding when things have to change. “It’s important to stay optimistic and demonstrate that optimism toward your partner,” Dr. Steinberg adds.

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