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7 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Strong Despite a Chronic Illness

Don't let chronic illness weaken the bond between you and your partner.

2. Ease Stressful Emotions

Kalb says it's normal to feel sad and to have  anxiety because of a chronic illness. And many chronic illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), are unpredictable, which only adds to the anxiety.

"The best way to deal with anxiety is to identify the root of the worry and find strategies and resources to address it," she says. Here are four positive steps you and your partner can take to help one another find relief from stress.

  1. To feel more in control, learn more about the condition and how to tap into available resources.
  2. Consider counseling. You can go together or separately for counseling with a therapist, minister, rabbi, or other trained professional. A good choice for building coping skills is to work with someone trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  3. Watch for depression. Sadness is a normal response to chronic illness. But clinical depression doesn't have to be.
  4. Acknowledge the  loss of the way your relationship used to be. You are both experiencing it.

Mimi Mosher is legally blind and has MS. The latest wrinkle in her marriage with John is her transition to use of an electric wheelchair.

"On a recent trip with friends," Mimi says, "I was content sitting near the beach drawing. But Jonathan wanted me to stroll with the group on the beach, which meant switching to a wheelchair with oversized wheels. Aesthetically, I didn't want to do it, but he convinced me. Sometimes you have to do things to please your partner."

3. State Your Needs

Kalb says a partner with a chronic illness may give mixed messages. When feeling good, your partner may want to do things on his or her own but then become resentful when others don’t step up to help when he or she isn't feeling as well.

Kalb recommends that if your the person with the illness be clear and direct about what you want because your partner isn’t a mind reader.

Chronic illness can often shift the balance of a relationship. The more responsibilities one of you needs to take on, the greater the imbalance. If you're providing care, you can start to feel overwhelmed and resentful. And if you're receiving care, you can feel more like a patient than a partner. Kalb says such a shift can threaten self-esteem and create a huge sense of loss.

You need to talk to one another about how to trade tasks and responsibilities, Kalb says. The Calderones have worked out their own system, although they admit it's not easy.

"I don’t drive anymore, so my husband drops me off and picks me up from work," Marybeth, who has been using a wheelchair for more than 20 years, says. "He does the cooking. But he doesn’t have a knack for meal planning so I do that."

"We’re equal partners," Chris says, "but I do the all the driving and cooking as well as home maintenance. It can be a burden."

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