When Your Partner Is Sick

One morning, shortly after being diagnosed with RA, I woke up in a ridiculous amount of pain. It wasn’t unexpected – I had been dealing with pain and fatigue for months and months by that point – but that didn’t make it easier for me to deal with. In fact, it probably made it harder. At the time I was still working on finding the right treatment, so I knew there wasn’t really anything to do about how terrible I felt but get up and try to get on with my day. I was in law school at the time, so I forced myself out of bed to get ready for class. I managed to get myself moving, but I was grumpy.

It was then that my husband announced that he wasn’t going to work that day because he was sick. He just had a cold. And I lost it.

My husband is lucky enough that he is very rarely sick, but when he does get sick he feels really bad. To me it seems like the smallest illness hits him like a ton of bricks. So that morning when he told me he was taking the day off work because of a little cold, I found myself feeling beyond frustrated. There I was, struggling to get to class through intense pain and fatigue, and he was going to take the day off because of a sore throat? I snapped that he obviously wasn’t too concerned about being contagious since he was sleeping next to someone taking immunosuppressants. And I pretty much said he could suck it up and go to work.

Thirty seconds later, I regretted my comments and tried to apologize. He had every right to make use of a sick day when he thought he needed it. It wasn’t his fault that he was sick. I love him and of course I wanted him to feel better. It really isn’t fun to be sick.

But, when you live with a chronic illness, it can be really hard to smother feelings of frustration and unfairness when your partner is sick with a temporary one. That’s partly because, instead of wallowing in pain, most of us living with chronic illnesses choose to fight through it. If I stayed in bed every time I didn’t feel well, I would never get out of bed. And if I let myself feel miserable every time my body hurt, I would always be miserable. I choose not to live that way. But even though it is my choice to try to function normally when I don’t feel that way, it can still be a little overwhelming how unfair it seems when your partner is sick.

So here are some things to try to keep in mind the next time your partner is sick:

Remember that your partner is there for you. In my case, my husband was my boyfriend when I first got diagnosed. He’s been by my side every step of the way and he married me fully knowing the struggles we would face. He has seen me struggle and understands what I am going through better than anyone else. He provides me with compassion all the time – so I try to remind myself to do the same when he isn’t well.

Think about how much your diagnosis affects your partner’s life. Besides me, my diagnosis affects my husband’s life more than anyone else’s. He watches me be in constant pain and helps me more than anyone else. He has had to change his life to accommodate my health. Remembering this helps me maintain more sympathy for him when he isn’t well.

Give yourself time. This issue is one that was a lot harder for me to deal with when I was first diagnosed and in the depths of my pain and depression. As I have accepted my diagnosis and made progress finding a treatment that helps, I have found it easier to be kind to my husband when he isn’t well. That doesn’t mean it is always easy – but I do think it gets easier with time.

Get help dealing with your feelings. When my husband is ill and I get frustrated, I try to recognize that those feelings have more to do with my own health than his. I think communication is key to a successful relationship, so I always try to explain my feelings to my husband so that we can work through them. But if talking to your partner is too hard, it may help to start by talking to a therapist – either with your partner or even alone. Making sure you get help dealing with your feelings can help keep this issue from taking a toll on your relationship.

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