Tell Your Valentine

Heart for Valentine's DaySo when exactly is a good time to tell your romantic partner about your illness? While Valentine’s Day may or may not be a good time to make that leap, it is certainly an opportunity to be mindful that having a chronic illness can definitely add a layer of strain to a relationship.

If your partner doesn’t know about your illness, you may be wondering how and/or when to break the news. You want to tell them but you fear that it will change your relationship. But then again, that’s not inherently a problem, is it? Perhaps one of the better reasons to share the news is to ease its burden on the relationship, and that’s a good change, right? The worrisome part is that we have limited control over what kind of change it will bring, which naturally raises concern about negative impacts. In a sense those concerns are justified—it’s difficult news to share, and it’s difficult news to hear as well.

One of the reasons sharing news like this feels so scary is that we are inclined to attach a lot of other meaning to it. It challenges our sense of certainty about the partner’s interest, commitment, flexibility, stability, or ultimately, their love.

We may also be inclined to judge these characteristics by the partner’s reaction to learning about our illness. But it’s important to realize that’s not entirely fair. Remember that each of us spent a lot of time adjusting to the diagnosis, and learning to live to accept it. To be fair, we need to give our partners that same opportunity to adapt before we judge their reaction.

Also remember that, while you’ve been dealing with the difficulties of illness, they’ve been in the dark about it. If they’ve noticed that something unusual is going on with you, it’s possible their imagination has made things seem worse or different than they really are. Your partner might actually be relieved to finally understand the reason behind whatever peculiarities they may have perceived.

Ultimately, if you’re pondering this question it means you probably want this relationship to last. And if your partner feels the same way, it’s likely that communicating about your health concerns will be a good change for your relationship. You’ll grow together, and ultimately if you truly care about each other, this will be a minor step along the way to a long healthy relationship.

Here are some thoughts to consider as you ponder the when and how of telling your romantic partner about your chronic illness.

  • You can’t predict how your partner will react.
  • You need to give them a chance to absorb the news.
  • You can’t expect the perfect reaction (or even to know what the perfect reaction is, or what it means)
  • It’s not fair to judge the depth of their commitment, the state of your relationship, or any other meaningful criteria, on their immediate reaction to this shocking news.
  • It is a surprise. It is difficult news for them to hear, just like it was for you. And they are more likely to need your comfort than your scrutiny.

Some thoughts on their process and reaction:

  • It’s okay for them to be shocked, and to struggle with it. Weren’t these normal components of your own process when you were diagnosed?
  • It’s important for your partner to know they can ask questions freely, and it’s important for you to not judge them for whatever they ask. Nothing is obvious. Curiosities are okay, and it’s important for your partner to feel your acceptance of their inquiries. It’s good for you to answer honestly, and it’s okay to not answer some questions, or take some time to ponder before responding.
  • It’s ok for your partner to want some time to absorb the news before they share their feelings. That is totally fair—after all, you spent a lot of time and energy getting ready to tell them about this, they deserve that same opportunity to think before they respond.
  • It’s okay for your partner to need a friend to help them through the transition, and it’s okay if that friend isn’t you. Yes, you want to talk things over together, but many people find it helpful to consult with others—an outside observer, a comforting ally, an impartial ear. Allow them space to seek perspective.
  • They may feel upset that you’d been hiding this from them. It may help to explain that you’ve had reason to keep it to yourself—to make sure you presented it in a way that was fair and friendly. They may still feel hurt by the concealment, and that is okay too.
  • They may feel challenged by this news. They will naturally think through all the same scenarios in their head that you did when you were first diagnosed… wondering how it will affect their life, their future, your relationship. And it’s not inherently selfish for them to worry about how it will affect them personally. This is all quite normal, and very reasonable.
  • Remember to consider that your partner may actually see this news as a relief, at least in part, to explain some behavior or stress that they didn’t understand.

The unshakable truth is that it’s fair for both of you to have whatever feelings and reactions that you have. It’s important to feel these things freely, without preconceived notions about what each one means. Share with each other honestly, and allow each other time to adapt. Then figure out what it means to the two of you together.

Above all, remember that it is truly a gift to trust someone. If you trust your partner with the news, hopefully they will recognize that gift, and embrace it. But remember that can come in many forms, it can take some time to achieve, and it may not come easily… very much like the peace you make with the disease yourself.

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Tags: Family Matters

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Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.