“Hot and bothered!” For most people these words create images of being twisted up in sheets, breathlessly reaching out to the one you love. For those with chronic illness, however, “hot” is more likely to refer to one’s thyroid condition, night sweats, or a heating pad on high. “Bothered. . .” Well, let’s just say when your body aches, everything makes you feel bothered: a cat that won’t move off your leg, a joint that continues to throb, and a husband that is able to snore through minor earthquakes. It can be hard to be romantic!
You may be surprised to know that nearly 1 in 2 people live with a chronic illness in the U.S.A. That means a whole lot of marriages have a third bed partner called “illness”–including mental illness too. Valentine’s Day romance is a year-round requirement to keep the communication and joy going in your relationship.
So, how do you get the spark back? Here are some creative romantic gift ideas and ways to say, “I love you.”
You have to give it your best effort and avoid excuses. “I’m so tired and had such a hard day. I feel terrible.” I’ve said them all so I understand. Unfortunately the circumstances won’t likely change, so you have to change your attitude in order to have the benefit of getting to the joy of romance. Let yourself relax and push past the pain and see if you can forget a good chunk of it. Distraction can be a wonderful thing.
Prioritize romance. One romantic idea is just making sure he knows he is number one –at least for a few days! Cleaning the house all day Saturday and then claiming you’re “just too tired” can make your spouse feel that he isn’t as important as your own agenda. Get some rest so you can at least have a decent conversation without falling asleep.
Do whatever it takes to be enthusiastic for your romantic evening. If you go out for a nice dinner, don’t tell him over the menu, “I actually feel pretty sick, so I don’t know what to eat. I really am going out just as a favor for you.” (That’s won’t turn your loved one on in the least!) Even if your romance is just dinner out, enjoy talking about some dreams you still have or what your hopes are for the future. Avoid talking about your illness or how it could change them all at the drop of a hat.
You don’t have to write romantic love poems. Just put together a mini-album of your favorite photos and include notes about your memories and how much he means to you.
Think of all of the thing you notice your spouse does that is never done with complaint and write them down with a bit thank you at the bottom. Many romantic ideas include these “I notice the little things” moments. Does he take out the garbage, get you medicine in the middle of the night, bathe your child without complaint, or even clean out the litter box? Write these out or type them in fun fonts as something for him to treasure.
Be confident. Women, we should probably try to get over feeling self-conscious and buy some underwear that doesn’t look like our grandmother’s.
Be silly or spontaneous. Ask your teen how to use that text message feature on your cell phone and send him a message that will make him look twice at who sent it to him! Go for it and be romantic, especially if it’s the kind of thing you’d never usually do or say.
Give him a home-made coupon for something he would like but doesn’t splurge on very often such as, “Good for 5 guilt-free hours with your friends watching football.” Avoid making him feel guilty whenever he wants to do something you can participate in (like going hiking or riding a roller coaster.)
Perfect marriages will never exist, but a even a marriage that has an illness can be a huge blessing and not just a state of survival. Romance comes in many ways. I remember loving my husband more than ever the night I couldn’t not move because of a rheumatoid arthritis flare. I “slept” sitting on the couch and he spent the night on the floor beside the couch to comfort me every time I screamed from the pain.
Oftentimes we are offering our spouse what we desire rather than the “love language” they need. Being aware of all of the small ways we can show each other love and respect add up to romance when you least expect it.
Lisa Copen is an “ill wife” and the founder of Rest Ministries. She is far from perfect in the romance area–but trying. She is the author of about 10 books on chronic illness that you can find here and she is currently working on a book for moms who are chronically ill.