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Illness: A disease or period of sickness of the body or mind

Chronic or life-threatening illnesses can have a profound affect on intimate relationships. There is suddenly a new, unwelcome member in the family. It can impact every aspect of the relationship through dealing with treatment options, insurance, loss of income and changes in intimacy.


Shelley, my son Zach’s significant other, suffered a profound head injury in a motorcycle accident, and she wasn’t expected to survive. Against all odds and with Zach as her care champion, she survived and has gone beyond all expectations in her abilities.


While this miracle has been a wonderful gift, it has also been a constant struggle for the couple. Zach has become a caregiver and advocate. There is seldom a day that goes by that he’s not working on some aspect of Shelley’s present and future well-being.


For Shelley, it has been a time of adjustment to a very different life with many limitations, such as not having the ability to work or drive. While she is able to do most daily activities, she is acutely aware of her limitations. In a flash, she went from managing a store to a life of doctor appointments and dependency on others.


Statistically speaking relationships, in which one member is chronically ill, are more likely to fail. If the partners are young or one is the primary caregiver, the relationship is six times more likely to fail.


“Even in the best relationships it’s hard. You feel trapped, out of control and helpless.” Who’s quote is this? There are elements that can greatly reduce the risk of a relationship meltdown:


Lack of honest communication about fears, frustrations and seeking solutions can leave each partner feeling distant and isolated. Overcoming this means each partner finds ways to openly discuss the challenges. By doing so, the distance is decreased and there is a team mentality.


Understanding Emotions

Chronic illness creates feelings of sadness, anxiety and anger. Each emotion is understandable but must be understood. The partners need to look for and comprehend the root of each of these emotions. It’s easy for each partner to feel that the other partner’s emotions are directed at them, which creates unnecessary tension. Depression about the situation is inevitable, but chronic or clinical depression must be acknowledged and treated. Being knowledgeable about the illness might decrease the feelings of losing control. Counseling might be wise for both partners to gain new tools to address the frustrations and anxiety.



Identifying local and national resources to gain knowledge and help can be a key in decreasing the stress on both partners. Having a strong family or a faith-based support system can also be important in dealing with many aspects of the disease. Assigning resource identification to a family member who wants to help can be rewarding for everyone.


Gene and Shelley are now three years into Shelley’s injury recovery. Like all other couples dealing with a chronic illness, each day brings new challenges and opportunities to find solutions. With continued support and use of resources, Shelley will live at her highest ability and Zach will continue to be her loving partner.


External resources can help build a support system for everything from transportation to procuring care services. Columbia is lucky to have these resources. Below are just a few of these organizations available in our area:


Services for Independent Living


American Cancer Society
New Horizons



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