Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Ella doesn’t have an easy time living with her chronic condition. Some days she needs more support than others. But when she does need support, she needs a lot of it.

Her husband, Mateo, has been a really supportive partner. He watches out for her, checking in with her to see if she needs anything. He encourages her to ask for help when she needs it, and he responds promptly and willingly. Ella is thankful for Mateo. She tells him that often.

But Ella noticed something last week that has left her feeling concerned.

She was having an especially hard day. In the morning, she was not feeling well enough to get out of bed. She asked Mateo to call her office and let them know she wouldn’t be in. He then needed to get their two children ready for school. She also needed him to take time off in the afternoon to take her to the doctor. Mateo later had to pick up one of their daughters from daycare and then make dinner for them. Ella needed some additional help with laundry that needed to get done. Then Mateo had to get their children ready for bed.

Mateo did all of this with a smile. But Ella noticed that he was dragging by the end of the evening. He fell asleep in front of the TV by ten, after he finished the dishes. She had to wake him up or he might have slept in the chair all night.

Even labors of love can leave your partner drained

As Ella watched Mateo sleeping, she thought about how helpful he was to her. And how he in many ways suffered from her chronic condition as much as she did. She also worried that the demands she placed on him might take a toll over time, both physically and emotionally.

Ella was worried about Mateo’s well-being. And was not sure what to do.

Have you ever felt like Ella? If you have a supportive partner, you know what a blessing that is. But you might also have times when, like Ella, you feel concerned about the toll your chronic condition could be placing on your partner. You may worry that you might at times be expecting too much of them.

Here’s how to take better care of the person who’s taking care of you:

Express appreciation. Say thank you. Often. Take time to let your partner know what they mean to you and how much you appreciate what they do for you. Do it every time an opportunity presents itself. Having an attitude of gratitude helps create a more positive atmosphere, and sure helps to pick up your partner’s spirits on a challenging day.

Keep the communication open. Your partner may encourage you to speak what’s on your mind, including all your frustrations about life with your chronic condition, but he or she may hold back on speaking about how they feel. Often out of fear they will say something that makes you feel like a burden, or think they resent what they need to do for you. So, encourage your partner to express what’s going on with them emotionally. Let them know it’s okay for them to vent, too. Listen without becoming defensive. Open communication in your home will make it a much more emotionally healthy place.

Ask yourself: Are there times when I might be able to do more for myself? This is not to imply that you are intentionally making your partner run around doing things for you, or that you are taking advantage of them. Not at all. However, you might want to consider requests as you make them. If you are concerned about everything your partner has on their plate, you could consider whether that next request is all that important. Or if it is something you can do for yourself, now or later.

Ask yourself: What could we let slide until we both have more time and energy? Like doing the laundry. Or cleaning the house. Sure, you’ve got a routine in place. And yes, it would be nice to have all that work done on schedule. But is getting it all done necessary? If you’re not up to participating, this might be a good time to do some prioritizing together. Your partner may need some extra encouragement from you to let go of chores that can wait until later.

Ask yourself: Are there other people who could help? When you need extra help, it’s only natural that your partner would step in and pick up the slack. And only natural that you would expect them to. It’s a whole lot easier than trying to figure out who else might step in. But also keep in mind that your partner may be at risk for emotional and physical fatigue as a result. So consider who else might provide some support. Maybe the kids could be enlisted to help out a little more around the house. Or, you may have a neighbor or family member who might be willing to stop in and help out, or run an errand or two. Who knows, there might be people in your circle who are hoping for an opportunity to give you some support.

Look for ways to give back. Is there something you can do for your partner that would brighten their day? Maybe not now, but when you are feeling better. A favorite dish or dessert? A household task they don’t love that you could take an extra turn at? An evening out to see a movie or a sporting event while the kids stay with a sitter? Some planning on your end might result in a big happiness boost for your biggest booster.

Care for your caregiver. Everybody needs some TLC. Everybody needs to feel appreciated. Everybody needs to feel that somebody has their back. That’s what you and your partner can give to each other. That’s teamwork!

What do you and your partner do to help lighten one another’s load? Add a comment below and tell us about it.