[By Tonja Weimer]
“How can I get my dating partner to be kind and understanding about an illness we have in the family? I don’t know how to handle this.”
A serious illness can drive some people away. The nature of your question suggests that the one you are dating is either: distancing, irritated, un-communicative, scared, or just generally not understanding of the situation you are in. To keep communication open between the two of you, take a look at the following:
- When there is illness in the family, never assume anyone knows what your needs are.
It is a grand and fortunate gift when they do, but people often do not know how to treat you or give you support. You have to teach them and tell them what you want and need. Tell your boyfriend or girlfriend what is going on. Walk them through what is happening, step by step, so they don’t feel left out. Then make a small request of them in how they can help you and see how they respond. Some people will rise to the request and some people will shrink, depending on their past experiences with illness and hospitals.
- Address the fact that you may not be as available as you once were.
Before your family member became ill, you probably had more time to spend with your love interest. Though you may be feeling overwhelmed, your boyfriend (or girlfriend) may be reacting to being somewhat neglected or abandoned. Attempt to listen to, understand, and acknowledge the difficult circumstances you are both in.
- Take a break from the family and talk to your date. Ask what you can do for your love that will ease the burden of his or her feeling left out.
When someone is ill, you may not be able to leave the house. Does your date need a phone call a day? Do they need to see you every day? Can you arrange for some quiet moments together if they come to visit? Involve them in helping you get through this trying time and let them contribute all that they can, but also ask other family members to make sure he or she always feels welcome.
A serious illness in the family is never easy when you are are directly involved, but for those who are not a part of the family and who care about you, it is understandable that they might feel forgotten and unimportant. The lines of appropriate contribution are fuzzy at best, and he or she looks to your guidance and suggestions to know how to participate in a positive way. However, it is also important to not cross boundaries, being too needy, asking for too much from another. But do communicate what you are going through and how you appreciate their support.
A family illness can stretch the tender bonds of dating to the shaking point. But if this person is someone you care about a great deal, it also can be your chance to see how they support you through the crisis.