So, you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness.
Yell, scream, grieve, cry, get it out of your system. Today is a new day, and yes, the reality is that things are probably going to change. There is a reason that the phrase “emotional rollercoaster” exists: it is real. You may feel all over the place. If you’re in a relationship, this is something that impacts more than just you. It’s a process for you, and it will also be a process for your partner. Recognize that the more you are able to communicate and understand each other’s needs, the better off your relationship will be. Often when we experience a life change, we ask our partner to put themselves in our shoes to better understand our situation. I think that method works wonders, and I also think it goes both ways! As much as you want your partner to truly understand what you are going through, you should try to understand his or her perspective in the situation, as well.
“Recognize that the more you are able to communicate and understand each other’s needs, the better off your relationship will be.”
So, let’s get started:
- Take a breath: Really, take one. A new chapter in your life (and in your relationship) is beginning, so think about how you want that chapter to start.
- Put yourself in your partner’s shoes – and vice versa: It’s really easy to lash out, especially when a partner doesn’t respond to a diagnosis in the way that you want or would expect. But take a moment to think about what it would feel like to hear that he/she received the same diagnosis. What would you be scared of? What would be your biggest concerns? How would this impact how you felt about your partner? Then ask your partner to do the same. Have him/her imagine how you are feeling, what you’re most afraid of, and what you’ll need to get through this journey together.
- Go to the doctor together: Your healthcare provider should be accessible to your partner, too. There are times when a partner needs to hear health-related information directly from your healthcare provider. When news comes from you, it can be misconstrued or confusing (even if that wasn’t your intention). Encourage your partner to join you at your next appointment. Assess how both of you are affected by your diagnosis with your healthcare provider and develop a plan of action as a team.
- Encourage each other to ask questions: Your concerns may be (and are likely to be) different from your partner’s. Make a plan to research separately. Then come back together to talk about what you learned. Think about what questions you had versus the ones your partner posed and why.
- Build a support system for yourself: You are not the first person who has experienced this transition in health and a relationship. It will help you to hear how others have navigated this experience. (More on this in my post "The Importance of Having a Support System While Living with Arthritis.")
- Encourage your partner to develop his/her own support system: Your partner may be concerned about saying certain things in front of you. It is normal for a partner to be scared, mad, etc. Basically, it’s normal for a partner to have all of the feelings you might experience. It will help for your partner to have a group that guides him or her to prepare for the changes that may occur in your relationship, as well as provide the resources for managing these changes.
- Communicate: Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your partner. Tell him or her what you need. And allow your partner to vent, too. Use “I” statements, try not to make assumptions, and listen to what each of you is really saying.
- Allow yourself and your partner to show who you really are: Remember that there are no guarantees in life or love. Life throws us curveballs all the time and, as people age, no one is exactly the same as they were when they were younger. There is no better way to measure the quality of a relationship (and a partner) than by seeing how they handle the tough times. On the flipside, your partner will be looking to see how you handle the news of your diagnosis, and if you’re committed to staying positive and working together to not let it overshadow your relationship.