Maintaining a Loving Relationship While Dealing with Chronic Illness

Related topics: Caregivers, Mental and Emotional Health, Family

Celebrating Valentine's Day with your loved one, no matter what their health challenges.


According to gerontologists, nearly 80 percent of adults age 65 and older are living with a chronic illness. Fifty percent have at least two. While some of the most common of these, such as high blood pressure or arthritis, are not necessarily life threatening, they can still put a crimp in one's love life. Sometimes the spouse of the person who is ill assumes the caregiver role, which can cause a big change in the couple's dynamic. And for those whose illnesses have gotten so bad as to require moving to a skilled nursing facility, maintaining intimacy also can be quite challenging.

The good news is that with a little patience and understanding, you can still enjoy romance and continue building a loving relationship, even in the midst of health challenges.

Be willing to be completely honest about your feelings.  Communication is key to every successful relationship and it becomes even more important when a chronic illness is part of the package. It's important to be willing to share your emotions about the changes that are happening in the relationship. If physical touch is no longer comfortable for you or your loved one, discuss other ways to practice intimacy and ensure each partner's needs are being met. Try light caresses on the hands and feet. Take advantage of time when pain is at a minimum. Sharing one's feelings with another person is, in itself, an act of intimacy, and can help your connection grow even at this difficult time.

Reminisce about the good times. When the going gets tough, take some time to remember some of the good times you've shared. Discuss with each other what made you fall in love in the first place. Creating "feel good" moments will help ease both the physical pain and the emotional stress associated with it. Remind yourself that it's never to late to continue creating memories together.

Get help. Ask friends and family members to provide some assistance with daily chores that may now be too difficult to manage alone. Getting help with the daily activities of living will allow you and your loved one to concentrate on each other and create special time that will enhance your ability to be romantic.

Take care of yourself. For the caregiver, it’s important to take some "alone time" and treat yourself to a favorite hobby or pastime, whether that's going out for coffee with a good friend or taking some time to read a book or watch TV. If you never feel "off duty" when your loved one is home with you, consider seeking short-term care from a licensed care facility. Many senior care communities, including skilled nursing facilities, offer respite care—anywhere from a few days to a few months. Your loved one will receive expert medical care and attention, providing you with the opportunity to care for yourself.

Practice gratitude. This is always a challenge when you're faced with the pain and sorrow of a chronic illness. But it's important to celebrate the good things in life. For instance, if you have a day with less pain than the day before, celebrate and allow yourself to be happy. If you're able to still smile at a grandchild's laugh or a spouse's loving glance, give thanks! The more time you spend in gratitude, the less time you'll spend in pain and regret.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2015 IlluminAge.