The language of love is never simple, but for those with long-term illnesses there can be even more aspects to decipher. Love's labour's are not lost, though – with these tips you'll soon be fluent, and communication can flourish

All relationships come with challenges, and some we can all relate to – the debate over who’s cooking dinner, taking the bins out, and who left their towel on the bathroom floor. But illness can bring with it a whole host of other relationship tests.

With more than 15 million of us living with a long-term health condition in the UK, it can add another element to your relationship. From mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, to physical illnesses such as arthritis, for those who are diagnosed, it can be scary and unsettling.

Some might be afraid of how their partner will respond, and support them. It can also be difficult for the partner, who might not know how best to help.

But while there may be tricky things to navigate, like any relationship, it can still thrive with a bit of attention and care.

If you are worried about how your long-term health condition might affect your relationship, here are some ideas to help it thrive.

1. Communicate with each other

You will see that you’re deserving of love. You’re more than just a person with an illness

It might sound obvious and key to all relationships, but honest communication is vital when you or your partner are struggling with an illness. Both physical and mental illnesses can be complex for somebody who isn’t experiencing them to understand. It can also be easy to make assumptions about how the other person is feeling. For instance, if you’re unable to do your share of the housework due to illness, you may assume that your partner is annoyed about it. If your partner is not talking to you because they are busy with the housework, they may accidentally portray that they are annoyed. Make time to honestly communicate how you are both feeling to help avoid misunderstandings.

2. Empathise with each other

Receiving a diagnosis of a long-term health condition can be really hard. From feeling ill and being in pain, to feeling overwhelmed by appointments and treatments, and guilty for being unable to do the things that you used to. It is important that a partner recognises how difficult it can be to have an illness. However, it is also important to acknowledge how difficult it can be for a partner. Seeing their loved one suffering and being unable to help, while taking on the mammoth load of life errands for the both of you, can be hard, too. Trying to see things from one another’s perspective can help you to understand and support each other.

3. Allow yourself to receive support

As somebody with a long-term health condition, it can be difficult to accept support. You don’t want to lose your independence or be seen as weak. You don’t want to admit defeat. But pushing yourself beyond your limits, because you’re too proud to accept help, can be damaging to your health. Refusing your partner’s care and support can also make them feel helpless. They may not be able to cure you, but they can cook your dinner!

4. Find joy in the little things

A transmasculine gender nonconforming person and transfeminine non binary person cuddling

Photography | The Gender Spectrum Collection

Spending quality time together is important, but if illness is preventing you from going on dates, don’t fret. Joy can be found in the little things, like laughing about that time you fell over in Tesco, making bubble beards in the bath, or reading together. Having someone to do nothing with can be better than having someone to do ‘something’ with.

5. Dream together

A lot of long-term health conditions fluctuate with periods of heightened symptoms, followed by periods of remission. When your illness is kicking you down, dream of what you’ll do when you’re feeling better. It can be as simple as making pancakes at the weekend, or as wild as imagining yourselves on a private jet to the Maldives. Dreaming can be the escapism you need when struggling with the daily realities of an illness.

6. Love yourself first

It’s a cliché that you can’t love anybody else until you love yourself, but self-love can help your relationship to thrive. Illnesses can contribute to a lack of confidence for numerous reasons, including side-effects of medication. But if you love yourself, you’ll see why your partner loves you, and be less likely to question why they would choose the challenges your illness can bring. You will see that you’re deserving of love. You’re more than just a person with an illness.