An estimated 15 million people live with a diagnosed chronic illness in England.

Every person’s experience with a long-term condition is, of course, different; management may involve medication, treatment, support, or a combination of all three.

Even though a doctor or specialist will be responsible for advising on treatment, what goes on outside of clinic is important too: family members and partners will often play a pivotal role in helping a person to manage a long term condition.

A chronic illness can present many challenges for the person living with it, but also for those close to them. However, maintaining a good support network can make the situation easier to deal with for all involved, and help a person with a chronic condition to enjoy better quality of life.

In this post, we’ll look in particular at some of the steps a partner can take to help someone managing a long-term illness, including:

  1. Learning about an illness
  2. Adjusting together
  3. Remembering small acts of kindness
  4. Understanding the medication regime
  5. Involving other people
  6. Getting through tough days

Learn about the condition

A chronic illness diagnosis can be daunting to say the least, and in many cases come as a shock.

If your partner receives a diagnosis, or even if you’re dating someone and they open up about their illness, it can be useful to learn as much as you can about the condition.

Having at least a basic understanding of your partner’s illness will enable you to have meaningful conversations on the topic. It can be easy, if you don’t address your partner’s condition, for them to begin to feel overburdened and disconnected from you.

If your partner is happy for you to attend appointments with them, this can be helpful too. Asking the doctor relevant questions can help to further your understanding, and also be a good way to check that you aware of the various resources available for support.

Adjusting together

There are some chronic illnesses that will demand a change in diet or lifestyle. If your partner needs to make changes, it can be useful to include certain elements of these into both of your lives, and where possible make them joint pursuits.

For instance, if your partner is told that they need to be more active, then signing up to your local gym together to make it something you do as a couple.

Certain chronic illnesses may dictate certain diets. For example those diagnosed with coeliac disease will need to adopt a diet that is gluten free and patients with heart disease or diabetes may need to make adjustments to what they eat.

You can help your partner come to terms with their illness by finding suitable recipes or restaurants you can enjoy in each other’s company. Following a specific diet isn’t something you have to do as a partner the whole time; but for instance, if your partner has coeliac disease, having at least one evening per week together where you both go gluten free can help your partner to feel more supported.

Small acts of kindness

The little things in a relationship are heralded by some as the most important, and this might particularly be the case for someone living a long-term illness. Simple gestures, such as making them a meal or keeping on top of general admin, can help to alleviate any added stress; as can taking time to listen to your partner’s worries and frustrations.

However, if your partner has only recently been told they have a long term illness, it is also important to keep in mind that your partner’s condition does not define them as a person, and they may begin to feel uncomfortable if you start to act too differently around them. If you can keep things as normal as possible, then this will help your partner come to terms with their diagnosis.

Understand their medication regime

Depending on your partner’s chronic illness they may need to take varying amounts of different medication and carefully follow prescription instructions.

Each medication may come with its own particular specifications, such as the time of day it should be taken, and whether it should be taken with food.

Adhering to a particularly strict medication regime can be at times trying, but is vital to keep your partner feeling well. You can help to make this aspect of their illness easier by being knowledgeable about their medication regime.

Treatment regimes can be subject to frequent changes, depending on how well your partner reacts to it and the nature of the medication. Talk to your partner and pay attention to each change as and when it happens, and your partner will be better equipped with your support to report anything of note to their doctor.

Involve other people

It isn’t always possible, but it can be helpful to involve other family members or friends in supporting your partner with their illness. You should check that your partner is comfortable with this idea beforehand.

Making more people aware of your partner’s illness might benefit both of you. Doing so may ease any feelings of loneliness or isolation, and could mean that more people check up on your partner from time to time to make sure that they are feeling okay.

It may seem daunting to open up to others at first, but it can be useful to know that you have people around who are able to offer support as and when you may need it.

Tough days

Having to deal with pain or feeling unwell on a frequent basis due to a chronic illness has been linked to an increased risk of depression. When your partner is experiencing a particularly difficult day, try not to take it personally if they become easily frustrated or irritated. It can be helpful to give your partner space and time during these periods.

One of the more important things to remember is that learning to cope with and manage a chronic condition can take time, and adjustments will often become easier to live with as time goes on.