the toll chronic illness places on relationships

The Toll Chronic Illness Takes on Relationships

Any tragedy reveals who a person truly is -both ourselves and those around us. The stripping away of the world and people around us seems to follow closely behind the stripping away of who we once were. Not only are our true, inner selves exposed, but so are theirs.

Whether we want them to or not, our relationships with our loved ones change dramatically throughout the course of chronic illness including our relationships with friends, family members, and/or romantic partners. Sometimes, we lose all. Sometimes, we grow closer to all. Better yet, sometimes we keep the good and let go of the bad. Unfortunately, the reason we let go is often because they leave us.

Any tragedy reveals who a person truly is -both ourselves and those around us. The stripping away of the world and people around us seems to follow closely behind the stripping away of who we once were. Not only are our true, inner selves exposed, but so are theirs.

I have noticed a trend in which husbands or wives, or boyfriends or girlfriends, tend to leave the person they “loved” behind. Their primary reason is that their partner’s illness became too hard or stressful on them, and they just could not take it anymore. They say they are tired of fighting, due to the insurmountable obstacles continuing to pile up throughout the course of their partner’s chronic illness.

For us who have been left because of these reasons, there is one major unspoken truth that carries us on past this tragedy -Our partners, who were too stressed because of our illnesses, could never imagine the pain and darkness we both endure and overcome. While they are busy fighting with external forces, we are busy waging a war within, refusing to wave the white flag and surrender our lives.

This is why I say it is not that we were not strong enough to hold on to our relationships. Rather, perhaps our partners were too weak to endure even a miniscule amount of the pain we experience with every breath we take –and that is okay. Not all are meant to face the type of pain we do. Their path, their pain that will eventually serve as their teacher, is likely to be one far different from our own; one that we could never understand, just as they could never understand ours.

This very fact allows us to mend our hearts, because it is blatantly obvious the real tragedy was not falling ill, rather it was falling in love with a person whose love was conditional. This is not to say all relationships fail due to chronic illness. There are the rare, lucky ones who manage to find unconditional love, the kind whose existence flourishes more and more with each passing day, in both sickness and health.

Others who quickly leave our sides are the ones we believed to be our friends, as well as some of our family members. Of course, just like romantic partners, they are there for the initial impact of the diagnosis with their egos feeding off of our misfortunes, creating a brief euphoria for their pain bodies, which are nothing more than amplified versions of the dark parts of the ego.

….But once they realize that the disease continues on and is long term, they bail. Some might say they do this because we become a burden to them. Perhaps, this is true. What is also true, though, is that at this point, they are burdens to us as well.

This is the beautiful paradox of illness. We lose so many relationships, and while it is quite unfortunate, we eventually feel grateful for the loss because it enables us to see that those people never genuinely loved us to begin with. In this way, our illnesses almost seem like blessings. Can you imagine how much time and effort we would have wasted with fake relationships without them?


  1. I have so much in my life. I have enjoyed so many wonderful experiences.

    I fear little, including this dreaded Lyme Disease I happen to have. I don’t fear pain. I don’t fear the isolation this disease brings. I don’t even fear my own death.

    What I do fear is the risk of letting myself love again, and the inevitable (is it?) loss of that love again. I simply fear ever loving again. Nothing else. Just that.

    • I often hear acknowledging a fear is the beginning of dissolving it. Maybe that will be the case for you. 🙂 Either way, you deserve love. And although it hurts to lose a person, you cannot truly lose love because it lives within you. I have abandoned myself before purely because others abandoned me, though. Since it’d be ignorant to assume I understand your pain entirely, I will instead say I feel for you. I am wishing you all the best. Thank you for reading and taking the time to be honest and vulnerable about yourself, that takes courage, and what you said is most likely the truth for many others as well. 🙂

      Take care,


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