Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Love and Chronic Illness: Can It Work?

As part of my constant quest for more information and possible treatment options, I follow a number of forums and pages that discuss fibromyalgia. On one of these pages, a topic came up recently: what is your opinion on having a significant other when dealing with a chronic illness? Is it harder or easier with a partner by your side? As I read through comments insisting that romantic relationships only complicate chronic illnesses, I initially bristled at the idea. How could anyone not see a supportive partner as a wonderful blessing?

However, as this question floated around in the back of my mind, I began wondering, is it really that black and white?

Since I have had fibromyalgia since my teens, I have dealt with chronic illness with and without a significant other. My life-changing fibro flare started about 4 years ago—when I was a single mother. And I started up an entirely new relationship, built the beginnings of a life with this new person, and became engaged…all in the midst of total chaos. And soon, I’ll be getting married, most likely with my fibromyalgia still in full swing.

Because life with a chronic illness is nowhere near normal, we like to assume that certain aspects of our lives aren’t affected and remain untouched. My relationship with my fiancé is no exception. In fact, part of me still wishes for that perfect love and whirlwind passion that sweeps me off my feet and sends me into my own happily-ever-after story.

But if I am completely honest with myself, even everlasting love is not immune to the effects of a chronic illness. First and foremost, although I am mellow and sweet-tempered by nature, fibromyalgia can bring out the ugly side of me. On my worst days, I am cranky and grumpy. When my body hurts so much I can’t find any relief, nothing is right. Every little sound, smell, or problem can send me reeling or agitate me. At times, I feel so frustrated and angry at my fibromyalgia that I can’t see the many blessings still in my life. I even doubt my self worth and usefulness at times. Believe me; my fiancé can’t help but want to avoid me when I get into one of these funks!

Oh, and we can’t forget the guilt. I feel so guilty that he is forced to bear the blunt of the financial burden for our family. And because I know that he works so hard every day for us, I feel even guiltier on days when I’m unable to provide him with a hot meal and a restful evening after he comes home. I feel exceptionally bad whenever I have a restless, painful night, which keeps him up long after he should be asleep. And don’t even get me started about the guilt I feel knowing that he may be stuck with my chronic illness for the rest of his life simply because he loves me.

On top of all this, we must face the anger and helplessness he feels whenever he sees me in pain and knows that he can’t make my fibromyalgia go away. I was a caregiver to my father for several years, so I’ve been in my fiancé’s position far too many times. Seeing your loved one sick or in pain is one the worst feelings in the world. Still, nothing compares to the realization that your loved one is suffering and you are powerless to change that, even though you love them so much that you’d do anything for them!

Ultimately, I now admit to myself that being in a relationship while dealing with a chronic illness is not as easy as I had automatically assumed. Of course, the benefits of a supportive partner are too numerous to count. Nevertheless, romance with chronic illness is NOT for the faint of heart! It takes sheer will and commitment to see the relationship through during the rough times. It also requires constant recommitment and renewed dedication. In any relationship, disagreements and problems are bound to arise. However, with the increased tension and stress of chronic illness, tempers are bound to flare more often and patience is much more likely to crack.

That is why regular communication is a must, and both partners need to work on fostering added patience and forgiveness. We are all human. We all make mistakes at times and get on each others’ nerves. Life is full of ups and downs and unexpected challenges. In spite of everything, though, if you and your partner are in the right place with the chronic illness, nothing is going to hold you back. A chronic illness doesn’t have to be the end of a romantic relationship or prevent you from making a serious commitment—if only you do your best to confront the obstacles from the beginning and have a solid faith in and devotion to each other.

No comments:

Post a Comment