3 questions to ask when chronic illness threatens your relationship (and the only one that matters)

My chronically ill spouse, friend, family member hates me.

… and I’m beginning to suspect I hate them back.

3 questions when chronic illness threatens a relationship www.calledtowatch.com #caregiver #struggle #chronicillness #writer #hope #chronic #faith #watching #prayer

These are big words.

Painful, awful words.

But so is being hurt by someone you love. ‘Dislike’ just doesn’t do it justice.

When we’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy into a difficult relationship, it can be devastating when it crumples. This is especially true when our partner or friend is battling a chronic illness.

If our ill family member yells at us or threatens to leave, it can also be shameful. Fighting with your hospitalised grandmother, complaining about your chronically ill brother… it just seems wrong.

But it happens.

So what do you do?

3 questions to ask when chronic illness threatens your relationship

The signs of a threatened relationship

We need to ask what our chronically ill spouse or friend is doing to hurt us.

What is it that is making us believe our relationship is under threat?
Is it something concrete? Or something more subtle?
Here are a few common ones:

We feel they are taking us for granted. It hurts because our loved one doesn’t seem to realise all we’ve sacrificed for them, and all we are doing. They don’t express their gratitude enough or in the right ways.

They are actively hurting us by their words. Our chronically ill partner puts us down, or is over critical. They attack our way of doing things and constantly compare us to others.

They refuse to do small things to make our lives easier. They seem wrapped up in their own pain, and never ask how we are.

What specific things do you find difficult in your relationship?

Can we blame the chronic illness?

This question is important.

Not because we ought to use their illness as an excuse to write off their actions or pardon atrocities, but we need to take their sickness into account.


Well, because illness changes people. If we are in pain, our tempers are shorter, and it’s harder to remain positive. I think we owe it to our ill family member to remember this.

After all, wouldn’t we want others to take it into consideration for us?

Questions to ask:

Is there something specific that is bothering them lately? Are they in a lot of pain, have they received bad news, are they under more strain or stress than normal? Have they slept enough, are they worried about something?

Do they have an outlet to express their frustration? Are exercise or distraction or other social encounters possible, for them? Or are you the only option?

Are our expectations for them the same as for others? Do we find it easier to forgive our work colleagues, or ourselves or our distant relatives? Have we subtly come to believe that they ought to be more patient because of their illness or because of what we do for them?

Could the problem actually be us? Are we hypersensitive because we are at the end of our emotional tether? Are we bothered by issues which we used to let slide? Are we under stress or having a bad week?

When to leave the relationship

After we’ve used the above questions to consider the bigger picture – what should we do?

There’s only two options.

We love or we leave.

Sometimes we live through relationships on tender hooks, just waiting for the big argument which will end it all.

Will it be this crisis, or this shouting match, or this betrayal?

Living like this is stressful. It’s exhausting, because we find ourselves asking the same questions over and over again. Is this it? Is this the end?

It’s also dangerous – after all, it’s hard to deeply invest in relationships when we’re simply waiting to see if they will last.

We need to choose. We need to decide whether we will love our chronically ill spouse, stick with them and champion for them no matter what – or whether we will let them go.

There are only two options in a relationship: love or leave – Tweet!

What to do if you choose to stay

If we make the decision to stay, that’s the end of the matter.

The issue of anger or frustration becomes immaterial. If love is forever, what is a troubling year or month or decade?

That’s not to say it’s easy. Their words will make us weep. There will be days when we can’t stand the sight of them.

But that’s okay. Love is a choice to keep going. Love says there’s more important things, because we’re in it for the long haul.

//I’m not going to ask whether you hate your ill loved one at times. That’s between you and God. But do you believe you have two options – or are there others? In what situations do you find it hard to choose to love?

Comment below or join the conversation here!

Note: as always, there’s a difference between difficulties in a relationship and abuse. If you’re unsure, ring a helpline or talk with someone removed from the problem. Illness is not an excuse for abuse.

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Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

2 thoughts on “3 questions to ask when chronic illness threatens your relationship (and the only one that matters)”

  1. I love this post! Well done!! If you are willing, please send it to me and I will republish in January (likely).

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.