Best Ways to Manage Romantic Relationships With a Chronic Illness
Taking a big breath, Christy walks into the coffee shop, glides past the big comfy couch, and settles on a small table with two chairs. She arrived a little early so she could choose the right spot for her second date with Kyle. So many things were bouncing around in her head. Was this outfit really a good choice? What did she want to talk about? What did she want to ask him? How long should she wait to talk to him about her chronic condition? Should she wait until it naturally came up or make it a point to bring it up sooner than later?
Christy has had Ulcerative Colitis for many years and had a pretty good handle on it but this dating thing was new. She had been married for years but suddenly found herself widowed about a year ago. She didn’t think she would ever be ready to date but she met this nice guy and at the urging of friends and family decided to give it a chance.
Christy, like other women, finds herself in a difficult position managing a chronic condition and starting all over again. It can be difficult to know the right ways to talk about the condition to a prospective romantic partner, so we're going to give our researched suggestions to help along the way, so you can have a healthy, honest relationship in your near future!
Tips for Talking with a Prospective Romantic Partner
As always be sure to always consult with a therapist or counselor to see what will work the best for your specific situation. These are some general guidelines that we think can help.
Set privacy expectations - When is the right time to bring it up? The answer to this question can be very different depending on factors such as the personalities of both the person with Ulcerative Colitis and the person they are dating. Some people are more private in general and particularly when it comes to the type of issues that comes along with Ulcerative Colitis. Even without a chronic condition, some people tend to let private issues come out slowly while other people move much more quickly. Whether you are more one way than the other, it is best to consider both personalities when deciding when and how much to disclose.
Encourage trust from your partner – As a good relationship grows, the trust will start to flourish and with that comes a new level of comfort. Each step of the way may be a good time to start sharing a little more about yourself. Any relationship tends to unfold like the peeling of an onion. We quite naturally find out more and more about each other as time goes on.
Know your comfort level - Keep in mind that your comfort level will most likely be contagious. The more comfortable you are with the potentially embarrassing aspects of Ulcerative Colitis, the more your friend will feel at ease. No need to be in a hurry though, if you are not feeling comfortable enough give it more time. It is always good to match the amount of information you share with your comfort level.
Use humor –To help raise the comfort level it may be a good time to get in touch with your childish side. A few well-placed jokes will likely lighten the mood. Getting a feel for your friend’s sense of humor should help in crafting your style of joking. Whether you want to go for a subtle approach or a “just throw it out there” approach, if humor is something you would like to try, remember that most people will respond positively when a little joking is thrown in.
Be open to vulnerability- We often fear vulnerability because many people view it as a weakness. But in fact, it can be considered quite a strength in a good relationship. When you trust your partner, showing a little vulnerability can actually increase the intimacy level. This can be particularly true when dealing with a sensitive subject like chronic Ulcerative Colitis.
The National Institutes of Health report that social relationships have a significant effect on many aspects of health including mental and physical health, health behavior, and mortality risk. Research has shown that positive social connection can help to relieve the kind of bad stress associated with heart disease, weak immune system, and poor gut function.
Also, people tend to engage in healthier behaviors when in a long-term loving relationship such as better nutrition with shared meals, better motivation to go to the doctor and even something as simple as better oral hygiene. Even though dating with a chronic disease such as Ulcerative Colitis can be a bit challenging and stressful in the beginning, the benefits to your overall well-being will make it worth the effort.
Disclaimer: Always be sure to talk to a counselor or therapist regarding additional help with romantic relationships. NorthShore is not a replacement for a professional mental health professional.