Just about everyone seeks companionship so, on the topic of dating and romantic relationships, I’m drawing upon both professional and personal experience. There’s my background as a therapist, my work with patients and care partners, and what I’ve learned from friends, who like me, belong to the rare disease patient community.
And of course, I’ve been there, too, in the dating world. We all feel vulnerable on a first date, and those of us with chronic conditions might feel a little more so. I know how challenging it can be to put yourself out there, to try to nurture and maintain a relationship while also managing a rare disease. Consider the following suggestions as gentle guidance. I hope this advice will help you avoid potential pitfalls and steer you toward a healthy, happy partnership.
Is Your Health Condition Their Deal-Breaker?
We all would like to think that potential partners could look past our illness and see all of the great qualities we possess. The truth is that some people won’t have the emotional capacity to commit to a relationship with someone who has a long-term condition. Your chronic illness could be a deal breaker – and not everyone will be upfront about it. Being rejected for any reason can be painful, but it can feel especially unfair when the rejection stems from something you have no control over.
Accepting this reality can hurt, but it’s also clarifying, so try not to lose hope. The relationship that failed to form can help you better identify desirable traits in a future partner. I recommend seeking someone who is reliable, nonjudgmental, giving and supportive. Hone your selection skills because, it turns out, all of those qualities required when dating a person with a rare or chronic illness are also the wonderful qualities that make someone a secure and loving partner.
What if the relationship failed for a reason other than your health condition? Shake that off, too. People have all sorts of deal breakers, when it comes to romantic relationships. It’s better to learn sooner than later that this person was not the right fit for you.
Seek a Secure Partner
You might have heard therapists and psychologists talk about different “attachment styles.” A person’s attachment style is rooted in childhood and can impact the way an adult connects – or fails to connect – with others. Seek a partner who has a secure attachment style and is not commitment avoidant.
Partners who want to be in relationships will understand that relationships take compromise. Secure partners don’t play games. They will not make you feel worried about whether they want to be in the relationship or make you feel like a burden. Secure partners will be flexible and view accommodations without resentment. In plain language, you want someone you can count on. Avoid the skittish.
Learn How and When to Tell Your Health Story
The truth is that there is no right time to tell or not to tell someone about your medical condition. The question is: When is the right time for you? A few things to think to keep in mind:
- Self disclose when you think that the person is someone who you may want to spend time with. If self disclosure happens too early, the person may not have enough of a connection with you to look past the illness, and may prematurely end things. In some cases, if you wait too long, it can feel as if you are hiding a secret, which can lead to anxiety. Consider your own comfort level and boundaries. For some people, it can feel right to share after a few dates. Others will wait several months. I also know some people who shared their illness immediately and are still with their partners to this day.
- Practice what you will say in advance. Choose a time when you feel that you can be calm and neutral. Think about what is important for you to convey. Remember that you don’t have to say everything all at once. Maybe start by explaining how the disease impacts you, what modifications or medications help you to manage the disease. Remind yourself and potential partners about the positive attributes you have gained from managing your disease. Stress all that you can do despite these limitations.
A hopeful but honest approach can quell worry and decrease inaccurate assumptions. Start off small and gauge the other person’s comfort level. If the person is inquisitive and wants to ask more questions, you may feel comfortable revealing more. If you sense that the person is overwhelmed, try not to take it personally. Remember that you have had months or even years to process the impact of the illness and what it means to you. Some people just need time.
And once you have had “the conversation,” make an honest assessment. How did it go? Was your potential mate open and nonjudgmental? Did they seem supportive? Having a life partner can be a source of strength and support for someone living with a chronic illness. Wherever you are on your journey, remember that we are all valuable; healthy relationships are attainable; and we are all deserving of love.