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Health & Sex

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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.

3. State Your Needs continued...

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."

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.

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