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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.

4. Watch the Caregiver's Health

Whichever one of you is the caregiving partner needs to pay attention to your own physical and emotional health. “If you don't," Kalb says, "you won’t be able to help the loved one.”

To relieve stress, Chris plays basketball once a week. Physical activity provides an outlet for stress. So can confiding in a friend, knowing your limits, asking for help, and setting realistic goals.

Caregiver burnout can be a risk. Its warning signs include:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and other loved ones
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or both
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick more often
  • Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person you are caring for
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Irritability

If you are the caregiver and are having symptoms like those, it's time for to seek help both for your own well-being and to get support in caring for your partner.

5. Strengthen Social Connections

Chronic illness can be isolating. Having strong friendships is a buffer against depression.  

But with a chronic illness, you or your partner may not be able to visit people’s homes if, for instance, one of you uses a wheelchair. Or one of you might pull back because you're afraid of being rejected, especially if the condition causes twitching or problems with bladder control. It's also possible you or your partner might tire easily, making it difficult to plan and follow through on social engagements.

“It’s become increasingly difficult for us to go to other people’s homes because of her wheelchair,” Jonathan Mosher says. “I’ve carried Mimi over many thresholds in the 23 years she’s had MS,” he says.

If you're the caregiver, you should feel free to socialize alone without feeling guilty about it. Keeping your own identity is important, Kalb says.

Kalb also suggests you and your partner keep a running list of things that need to be done so when friends or relatives ask what they can do to help, you’re prepared.

6. Address Financial Strain

Money can be a strain for any couple, and chronic illness can be a huge financial burden. You may have lost income because the illness made it impossible to keep working. You have increased medical expenses and even remodeling fees if your home needs to be made wheelchair-accessible. And whichever one of you is the caregiver may not be able to leave a job you don't like because of problems with insurance coverage.

You and your partner may want to work with a financial planner who has expertise in handling chronic medical conditions. Kalb recommends contacting the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

You and your partner may also benefit by learning how to cut drug costs and expenses related to doctor visits.

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