4 Buddhist Lessons For Couples Experiencing Illness

Buddhist Principles can Show Us Opportunities

When illness strikes, our first response is usually one of fear.
Being able to name the fear, observe it with curiosity, then practice patience and acceptance will help us move past the fear and open our hearts to something much greater.
Being mindful of our fear, without judgment, leads to embracing the transformative effects of our circumstances.
One of which is the evolution of deeper intimacy within our significant relationship.
Illness and intimacy…these two words are not usually heard together, but when we look at the impact of illness on a couple’s relationship, we realize it is an opportunity for transformative experiences within that relationship.
What are the elements required to transform the dark side of illness into a rich experience of deep intimacy with our beloved?

Interconnectedness and Vulnerability

There is no way around the vulnerability that arises along with the onset of illness.
We no longer feel invincible.
We realize that we need others for support, help, and comfort.
One of the core principles in Zen Buddhism is the idea of “interconnectedness.”
We are not the self-sufficient beings we might have once believed ourselves to be.
We are deeply influenced by—and influencing—everything around us at all times.
In significant intimate relationships, feeling vulnerability due to illness offers an opportunity to practice interconnectedness with an understanding of just how deeply we are connected.
Diving into vulnerability requires courage and creates space for each partner to acknowledge and manifest their interconnectedness in an authentic, heart-opening way.
Mindful awareness and acceptance of our interconnectedness is an essential element of intimacy.

Expression of Emotions with Compassion

One of the challenges of illness is honestly expressing our emotions with our partners about the impact of illness.
Discussing fears, worries, concerns, anger, and resentment requires compassion- compassion toward ourselves and toward our partner.
Compassion moves us from judgment, criticism, and blame to gentle acceptance and patience.
When difficult emotions arise, breathe deeply and practice calm observation.
Be curious about restricting, judgmental beliefs.
Loving meditation can help us express our emotions with peacefulness by cultivating deep acceptance of our fears and those of our partner’s.

Creating a “New Normal” by Embracing Change

When illness sweeps through a relationship, familiar routines and reassuring patterns change, creating uncertainty.
Routines and activities that provided an illusion of control cannot be sustained as usual.
With these inevitable changes, we can either resist, or we can breathe into them and practice letting go of things that no longer serve us.
Change helps us to be open to new ways of being.
Working together as a team to create new routines, activities, beliefs, and ways of expressing love and appreciation can add new energy and inspiration to a relationship.
Couples who work together in doing this can find new vitality as they create and implement a new vision of their relationship.
Being curious about new possibilities opens up opportunities to learn and grow together.
Learning and growing in new ways encourages intimacy to thrive.


There is nothing like illness to break us open and shine light on all we are grateful for.
From small, daily pleasures, like waking early to have coffee as the sun rises and shines its first light on the trees, to larger gifts such as having a second chance to live more fully, more intentionally, and more authentically; all of this instills deep gratitude.
Feeling grateful shifts us from focusing on the ways we feel deprived and disappointed, to a recognition of the gifts and blessings before us.
Even our suffering is something to be grateful for.
Yes, it is challenging to embrace crises as opportunities, but our deepest learning comes from our deepest pain.
Gratitude in all circumstances helps us stay open to infinite possibilities.
Moving from a place of fear to one of appreciation, awareness, and gratitude helps us to let go of harsh expectations and unrealistic demands on ourselves and others.
We learn to accept ourselves and our partner with all the aspects of light and dark.
We embrace the dark without judgment, and we relish the light.
We see where we have taken things for granted, leading us to express deep appreciation for each other.
Being grateful, and expressing it, welcomes intimacy home.
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