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7 Ways to Support a Partner With a Chronic Illness


Chronic illnesses come in all different shapes and sizes.

Some are autoimmune.

Others are to do with mental health or are neurological conditions.

Some are invisible, others are not.

But they’re all a bit rubbish.

You already know this if your other half has a chronic illness.

You’re not really supposed to admit it but it can be hard being with someone who is chronically ill.

The flare-ups and the symptoms and the missed-things.

Cancelling plans and going to doctor’s appointments and having to take time off work.

Sure, you’re not the one with the chronic illness, but it can feel like a third presence in any relationship.

Ultimately, all you want to do is help, but ‘chronic’ usually means ‘not curable’, so your partner’s illness becomes the new normal.

If the diagnosis is new, it can feel like a lot – and all you want to do is help out, but where do you start?

1. Don’t Spend Time Looking up Possible Cures or Treatments

exhausted lady on internet

The internet comes with loads of great information but there are plenty of quacks on there too peddling shite about eating your greens and the restorative power of positivity and waving around smelly sticks and essential oils.

There’s definitely an appeal to sitting in on a Friday night with the internet open looking up alternative treatments for your other half’s illness, but most of the time, their doctor really is the best person for the job.

That’s not to say that their doctor is automatically doing a brilliant job.

If you really think that your partner’s treatment is lacking, go to support groups, ask around for recommendations, and get a second opinion.

Just don’t fall into a trap of trying to find a cure where there isn’t necessarily one, because false hope is no use to anyone either.

2. Well-Intended or not, Don’t Push Them too Hard

With invisible illnesses, it can be very hard to gauge how your other half really is.

If they had a wound on their leg, you’d get a good idea.

Bleeding = bad.

A big dirty-looking scab = good

– but chronic exhaustion or pain don’t have obvious cues.

Your other half might look okay but they could be experiencing cramps so bad that all they want to do is lie on the floor and hug a hot water bottle.

You’re gonna have to accept that you’ll need to be flexible – plans are going to change.

Sometimes there’s little you can do to help beyond being there for them.

So if they’re insistent they’re not up for something, consider swapping it and watch Netflix instead.

3. Check-in and Listen. Often

Even if you’re brilliant communicators, chances are you don’t often ask your other half how they’re really doing.

It’s a side-effect of spending a few years together: you get really good at reading each other but you also stop checking in because there’s all that other stuff to look after – kids, bills, work, whatever.

busy dad

Your other half also might not want to talk about it in case you think they’re complaining too much or going on about it, so make sure to ask how they are and be interested in the answer.

Same goes for you too!

4. Be Supportive

Depending on the illness or symptoms, your other half may have to change their diet or quit the fags or coffee.

They also might slip up and eat a pile of crap one weekend because they don’t feel well.

That’s not the time to tell them that they should have gone for the healthy option, well-intended or not.

Make small changes instead, like making sure the fridge is always stocked with the healthy snacks they like, and try not to eat the things they can’t have any more while you’re around them.

Be sound, basically.

Changing your lifestyle takes time, so be supportive about any slip-ups.

5. Get the Financials in Order

Yeah I know: the money stuff.

We were going to have to get round to it eventually so now is as good a time as any.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness (or knowing someone who has been) is gonna make you think about things like insurance and sick leave and what actually happens if they need to take an extended amount of time out of work.

Which is fine if you’ve both got good, supportive employers – but what if you’re in the middle of a mortgage application or they get the bare minimum of sick leave and they have no Income Protection cover in place?

So here are the big things, in brief:

  • I’ve written a guide to Illness Benefits in Ireland in plain English, so go read that if you need info.
  • Your other half’s options will be a little bit limited when it comes to insurance. Income Protection (a type of insurance where you get a replacement income of up to 75 percent) is really useful but it won’t cover the illness they already have, so bear that in mind.
  • They can still get Life Insurance, but it might be more expensive. Some insurers and banks may turn them down, but that doesn’t mean that they all will. You just need to find the insurer who is most sympathetic to your other half’s case. (Alternatively, I can do it for you as we work with loads of insurers and specialise in getting insurance for people with medical issues.)
  • If you’re thinking of or are in the process of buying a house, Mortgage Protection shouldn’t be an issue – but again, it might be a little more expensive.
  • You can read more about getting insurance with bad health in this blog.
  • Last but not least, I’ve got an Illness Advice centre for the more common illnesses, like:

6. Don’t Compare Before and After

Just don’t do it.

Especially if you’re in a fight.

7. Prepare for (and don’t be disappointed by) Setbacks

Setbacks happen.

The hardest part about any chronic illness is that there are no magic cures.

But there are treatments and periods of remission – and it can be really easy to start thinking that your other half is ‘better’ because they’re feeling great for the first time in ages.

But as much as treatment can help, our bodies are temperamental and something that works might stop working or they might get an awful flare-up or a small thing can spiral.

Be prepared to support them through the good days and bad.

No one is expecting you to be a saint either, so look after yourself too!

Over to you…

If you want to sort out insurance for yourself or your other half (or yourself and your other half, to be sound), you can give me a call on 05793 20836 or fill in the short questionnaire right here.

We’vve helped hundreds of people with chronic illnesses get insurance.

So don’t worry: it is possible!


Thanks for reading

Nick | making life insurance easier

Editor’s Note. This blog first appeared in 2018 and has been regularly updated since.

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