Someone with a heavily researched chronic illness needs lots of love, patience, and support, but a person with one that is severely under-researched needs even more.
I’ve been in both worlds. I’ve been in a relationship with a man who didn’t get it and doubted the new things I was learning about PCOS. Now I’m with a man who gets having a chronic illness and approaches me with more patience than sometimes makes sense to me.
Having a partner who doesn’t understand is stressful, irritating, depressing, and can make you doubt your own efforts. You’re already climbing up hill with PCOS, why aggravate the issue with someone who isn’t willing to accept your condition?
If you’re with someone who doesn’t get it, or someone who gets it but could do more to validate and support your experience, this post is for them!
Alright Partners, Companions, Spouses, Lovers, this next bit’s for you:
The love of your life has PCOS. Maybe they were just diagnosed with it, maybe they’ve known about it for a while. Maybe you’ve just met each other, and maybe you’ve been together for a while. Someone with a heavily researched chronic illness needs lots of love, patience, and support, but a person with one that is severely under-researched needs even more. Having PCOS is like weed-whacking in a pitch black field. We know there are others out there, but we can’t see them, and we feel alone, trying to sift through all the contradictory information out there from the internet, from health care professionals, and information received from our own bodies.
Here are 8 ways you can make this tough, isolating journey feel not so tough and isolating:
Understand and read up on your own about PCOS and then ask your partner about their specific experience. Your partner is already putting so much thought and effort into managing their condition. The question alone, "What is PCOS?” feels to us like we are looking up a very tall mountain of answers to that question. Maybe your partner will answer, but there’s so much ground to cover, they may forget a detail, because it is not a simple definition. It’s possible they may not even want to dive into it because it’s embarrassing or painful to talk about. If you find out your partner has PCOS, start your own investigating. It shows them you care deeply for them, support them, believe them (you’d be amazed how many people with PCOS I talk to whose family and/or partner do not understand or believe what they say about their illness), and helps make their job easier when managing their needs.
Do not vocally blame their behavior on their PCOS. Say your partner is particularly moody today. Perhaps in your mind you know that this is directly related to their PCOS. DO NOT under ANY circumstances decide for them why they are upset. This can lead to a fight, or spiraling of emotions from your partner.
Never make jokes about any of the symptoms experienced by your partner unless it’s VERY CLEAR this is safe territory (some people may not mind it), and you better sure as all hell know them really well before you do. I had a partner make a joke about my hirsutism once. The moment it came out of his mouth he instantly knew it was wrong, but I gave him a good verbal slapping anyway. The shame and embarrassment I immediately felt when he did that was difficult to shake. These things we go through are difficult. Many of us have physical manifestations of PCOS that we don’t want reminders of, especially in the form of jokes.
Have patience when it comes to their food. Grocery shopping trips may take longer because they have to read every label of the foods they want to make sure it’s ok for them. Restaurant outings might be a little different than the average person because they have to make sure the items they are getting are safe for their hormones. They may end up ordering a plate and having to change a few or many of the ingredients when the server takes the order. They may have to ask in-depth questions about the food items. Your ability to not rush your partner, and perhaps offer suggestions in front of a stranger will encourage your partner to feel validated and fight for their health. I am so conditioned to feel bad about my needs that I still feel bad around my partner when I have to be particular. But he always lets me know with a gentle smile, or a gentle reminder of what I should watch out for (because sometimes I forget the myriad of things that make me physically uncomfortable.) I am always grateful for those moments because it validates my desire to be healthy, and helps me understand that I have a faithful rock to lean on in this turbulent PCOS storm.
Help them find food they can eat. Whether you’re making the grocery list, trying to find a restaurant to eat at, or looking for ways to explore different foods, the more attention you give to the types of food they can eat, the less pressure your PCOS partner feels to keep up with all the details they need to to stay healthy. Food is tough and complicated to navigate at times, and having someone there navigating it with you makes it so much easier. Also, 2 minds are better than one. Perhaps you will find something your partner missed or didn’t think of.
If you’re able to, participate in exercise with them. If you can, this is an amazing couples activity. It’s a great way to bond and support each other. This new habit is difficult to take on alone, and while it can be done, it’s always better to do it with someone else. You will help hold them accountable, encourage them to exercise, and improve your own health too!
Maybe you want to keep some habits they are trying to change. Don’t flaunt their old habits in their face. Do you want dessert tonight, but your partner is trying to be better about moderation? That’s ok! Have your dessert, maybe offer them a bite. But make sure not to keep extra dessert in the house! If it’s not accessible, the less tempting it will be. When we want dessert in my home we go get 1 serving of it and try not to have any left over because my self-control is horrible if I know it’s there. They might have to get up earlier than you to exercise. Don’t drag them back into bed. Don’t tell them they don’t need to. Maybe even get up with them if you can and then go back to bed once they’ve started exercising. Just an idea, but definitely not a requirement.
Do not push having children if fertility is an issue. For many individuals with PCOS, having a child is what they’ve dreamt of. Think of things you dreamt of that didn’t come true. Feel that pain? It’s exponentially larger when someone wanted to nurture a life from their own womb and has had that stripped away from them. They do not need reminders of what they cannot do but wanted so desperately to do. Instead, continue to support them in their choices of finding ways to have children. Do some research yourself as well and present it in a way that doesn’t come off as pushy.
Communicate and practice that you understand your partner will not always be perfect. As you may or may not already know, PCOS comes with a myriad of symptoms that manifest physically. Male-patterned hair growth and/or baldness, stubborn belly fat, moodiness, acne, infertility, and so on. Let your partner see that your love is not conditional and these symptoms are not consequential. You can do this by
Not constantly reminding them of their symptoms. ie. “You haven’t taken care of your hirsutism in a while.”
Telling them how wonderful they are both inside and out as often as you can, especially when their symptoms have really gotten them down
Let them know you will love them even when they are unhappy with themselves because they gained weight, broke out in pimples, can’t have children, haven’t taken care of their hirsutism recently, or ate food that makes them uncomfortable.
Doing all the things on this list. ;)
There you have it. 9 ways to help your PCOS partner feel more supported. PCOS is a lot of work to keep up with, but with your love and support, it just might make it a little bit easier. From all of us who struggle with it to you, thank you for your patience, your willingness to learn, your understanding, and most of all your unconditional love as we take on this unfamiliar beast.