5 important mistakes I made as a partner to someone with chronic illness.

About seven years ago, while at university, I fell in love.

Ray was easily one of the most brilliant and funny people I’d ever met — they stole my heart almost immediately.

While they can seem soft-spoken at first, they’re incredibly passionate and opinionated when you get to know them. They’re empathic, geeky, and tender. And they balance me out, too: their careful and considerate nature has tempered my impulsivity and reckless optimism many, many times.

In other words, we fit together wonderfully.

I knew Ray was special from the moment I met them. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that we later got married — and I’m very lucky to be able to say that after nearly seven years together, we are raising two perfect fur babies together (and more succulents than I can possibly count).

In many ways, ours is a love story that seems pretty typical. But in reality, it’s not quite.

Ray has a number of chronic illnesses, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) and arthritis. With this comes not only a lot of physical pain and mobility issues but total exhaustion day after day.

After years of being partners, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about supporting folks in my life with chronic illness. But as much as I hate admitting this, these were lessons that I often learned the hard way.

I want to share some of the mistakes that I’ve made, because I’m hopeful that other loved ones can learn from my experiences, and in doing so, they can offer the kind of support that chronically ill folks truly deserve — support that is unconditionally affirming.

So where did I mess up, exactly? Here are five of the big blunders I made, and what I learned as a result.

1. I assumed that we had the same definition of ‘happiness.’

I’m happiest when I’m busy. I know this about myself. If I don’t have several projects up in the air, a regular dose of sunshine, consistent friend dates, and a lot of yoga on the weekends, I’m not very functional.

Particularly as someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder and ADHD, the pace of my life and what’s on my calendar determines whether or not I’m functional on any given week.

Sometimes I would look at how my partner’s life was set up, though, and I’d wonder if they were making the “right” choices — just because their life didn’t look like mine.

How did they survive, I wondered, without regular social outings? Wouldn’t they feel better if they got out a little more? At first, I didn’t slow down to consider what happiness looked like for them. I used my own definition assuming that what worked for me would obviously work for them.

The reality is, though, that what makes me feel good is not necessarily going to make Ray feel good. What’s empowering or energizing for me could actually be completely draining, counterproductive, or even harmful for them.

I logically understood this. But even so, I’d still slip up at times, assuming that their life was lacking some key ingredient that their own recipe never called for.

In recent years, I started paying much closer attention to how my partner defines happiness. I work to support them in making whatever changes they deem helpful in pursuit of their goals, even if their goals look nothing like mine.

This means celebrating their successes, too, however they define success.

They get to steer the ship; it’s my job as a partner to support them in whatever direction they choose to go, and however they ask me to show up.

2. I had a lot of suggestions — but I wasn’t always making them accessible.

Ray and I have the kind of relationship where we do offer (solicited) suggestions to each other from time to time, always with the caveat that we aren’t pushing and we’re respectful when we offer guidance.

I began to notice, though, that sometimes my advice was consistently lacking something — accessibility.

If I was suggesting that my partner see a specialist, was I also offering to go with them? Was I making sure they had transportation covered? Was I helping them take notes on what questions needed answering?

Or was I just telling them what they should do without a plan of how we could make it happen?

If I was recommending that Ray join me for a particular (gentle) yoga or stretching class, had I spoken with the instructor first to ask if they knew how to work with clients with EDS? Was I willing to pay for a Lyft so that they didn’t have to walk to class with me? Had I researched if that particular activity was safe for their body in the first place?

Offering advice without consideration of how to make it actionable and accessible meant that my “advice” was useless — plain and simple.

Rather than creating additional work for my partner, it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m offering real support and not just ideas that will further overwhelm them.

3. I thought that nudging them to try new things would be helpful.

With my obsessive-compulsive disorder, I often need to stretch just outside of my comfort zone to improve my mental health. It’s helpful, then, when people in my life nudge me to go outside, try something new, and break out of my routine if I’m starting to isolate myself too much.

With Ray, it’s the total opposite. They need to stick to a reliable routine to ensure they have enough spoons to get their work done.

They have to mentally calculate whether or not they can afford to do something differently. If they stray from their routine on an average day, they risk exhausting themselves before they meet all their responsibilities, which can impact them for days or even weeks to come.

Earlier in our relationship, I did a lot of nudging — because I figured inching outside of their comfort zone would be helpful, rather than harmful, like it was for me. While my resistance to trying something new came from anxiety that I could work through, Ray’s resistance was a matter of survival.

That’s why, when we’re supporting any partner with chronic illness, we must always assume that they are the expert on their own experiences. I know now that my partner gets to determine the pace at which they move in and out of their comfort zone.

The best way I’ve found to navigate this is to ask questions! Some examples of what I would ask:

  • “Are you looking to brainstorm ways to feel a little better? Or do you just need the space to talk about what you’re feeling?”
  • “What is the most helpful thing I could do to support you right now?”
  • “Do you have the energy to try something a little different? Or are you on ‘power save mode’ right now?”

I know that sometimes, my partner feels stuck and needs a solid brainstorm to figure out how to address certain challenges. But they get to decide when that happens — not me.

4. I didn’t ask exactly how I should engage with others around their disabilities.

It didn’t occur to me for the longest time what about their experiences I should or shouldn’t disclose. Instead, I focused on whether or not I was comfortable having a conversation, rather than asking Ray what they did and didn’t want others to know.

An example: My partner was unable to work for a period of time because of their disabilities.

At first, I had no problem letting people know if they asked what my partner did for work. But after a while, the judgment from others made me uncomfortable — so rather than affirming my partner’s decision and pushing back on ableism when I encountered it, I eventually found myself being dishonest about our situation.

“Well, they’re preparing to go back to school, so they’re taking some time…”

“They’re freelancing at the moment…”

“They’re waiting for the right opportunity to come along…”

Here’s what I should have done from the start: had a conversation with my partner and asked them how they’d like me to speak about their situation if and when someone asked. 

Maybe they wanted me to have those tough conversations, explicitly supporting their decision to take care of themselves. Seizing those teachable moments could have been a powerful moment for allyship! Or maybe they wanted to keep that information private, and we could instead find a way to disengage in a way they felt comfortable with.

Either way, they should’ve been the one to decide on that narrative — not me.

I know now that it’s so important to check in with them and ensure that I’m having conversations around their disabilities in ways they feel comfortable with, rather than assuming that I know what those boundaries are.

(Which is why I first got their consent to write this article… and then we read through it together to ensure it felt empowering and accurate!)

5. I unconsciously carried the assumption that there was or someday would be a ‘solution.’

When it comes to chronic illness, there isn’t always a “solution.” There can be management, maintenance, even treatment… but in many instances, I’ve had to learn to accept that sometimes survival and self-care are the very best we can do.

Many of us grow up with the idea that if we go to a doctor, they have the answers, and that we’ll eventually be “better.” It’s a comforting thought, but it doesn’t hold up in reality, especially when we’re talking about invisible illnesses.

I had to learn quite early on that more often than not, doctors don’t have any answers for Ray — and sometimes they do more harm than good. Not every appointment was going to yield something helpful. No matter how persistently we advocate, there’s no guarantee that we will ever arrive at a “solution” that magically helps Ray feel good (or even okay) in their body.

Doctors don’t always have answers. In fact, most of the time, Ray knows a hell of a lot more about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome than their doctors do.

I’ve had to stop living in this fantasy world where Ray someday arrives at a magical “cure,” and instead, engage with the reality of their disabilities. That often means waking up each morning, checking in and asking, “What’s the very best we can do today?”

The truth is, there are ups and downs with these illnesses — sometimes a lot more downs than ups.

Was I prepared for that? If I wasn’t, I had better get my shit together.

I love and support my partner not in spite of their disabilities, but as a whole person, which is inclusive of every struggle and identity that they hold.

Loving someone that way means letting go of the idea that “health” is at the finish line — or that there’s a “finish line” at all — and instead, I focus on whatever goals Ray aspires towards, even if that goal is simply surviving another day.

What do they need from me as their partner to make their goals and aspirations a reality? That’s where I devote my energy now, and Ray gets to set the pace and the path forward.

The assumption that things will someday “improve” or “get better” — and that we, as partners, are in some way responsible for making that happen — has to be dismantled.

Otherwise, we’re not really loving them, are we? We’re setting up an expectation, rather than loving the person who’s right in front of us. It’s an illusion that’s rooted in a very ableist frame of mind.

Our job is to love our partners as they are, body and soul, here in this moment. And that means embracing an uncertain future — knowing that while love may not protect us from every challenge we’ll face together, its warmth and light can sustain us.

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Self-Care Tips For Folks Who Struggle With Codependency

Please note that I am not a mental health professional – just someone with a hell of a lot of lived experience – and this advice should never act as a substitute for professional medical advice.

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I put every egg I had into one basket: My tumultuous relationship.

My Struggles With Codependency

I’ve never talked about this publicly before – maybe because it’s just so highly stigmatized in our society – but I have struggled throughout my life with entering into codependent relationships.

Codependency has been defined a lot of different ways (and often in ways that further stigmatize people with mental health struggles).

I prefer to define it as a relationship in which a partner becomes a substitute for healthier coping strategies. By being an individual’s sole source of support and caregiving, they interfere with their partner’s ability to be self-reliant and adaptive in the face of stress.

It creates a dysfunctional dynamic in which one partner is seen as “rescuing” the other partner. Love between those partners ultimately becomes defined on the basis of either providing or receiving assistance/support. Psychology Today has a great article about it if you want more information.

My therapist once described it very simply as “putting all your eggs in one basket.” 

When I was sixteen and struggling with bipolar disorder and anxiety, I put every egg I had into one basket – a tumultuous relationship with a boy I went to high school with.

My (untreated, undiagnosed) mental illness was running rampant in my life. I was experiencing extreme highs and lows, dissociation, panic attacks, self-harm, and suicidality.

And descending from the heavens, in my mind, was this guy who loved me despite it all and carried me through.

I not only perceived him as being the one who saved me from myself, but I saw him as loving me when I was inherently unlovable. This created a dysfunctional dynamic in which I relied on him to help me adapt to my illness, rather than seeking out adequate treatment, expanding my support networks, developing new coping strategies, and creating a practice of self-care.

If I was depressed, anxious, upset, you name it – I was calling him with the expectation that, no matter where he was or what he was doing, he would talk me through it. I became so dependent on him that I didn’t know how to survive without him.

Similarly, he also struggled with depression, and sometimes these roles would shift. I would become his one and only support. I would drop everything to be there for him. I would sacrifice my own sanity just to give him something or someone to lean on.

At some point or another, I realized that I had lost touch with nearly every friend I had because I was so invested in this one relationship. And worse yet – when I realized this, it hardly seemed to matter.

And thus our unsustainable, chaotic relationship became both our saving grace and the very thing that drove us mad. Because without adequate coping strategies and resilience, the burden was placed on our relationship.

Towards the end of our relationship – an end that we both could see coming from a mile away – he told me that he had considered, many times, breaking up with me, but felt that he couldn’t.

When asked why, he simply said, “I couldn’t break up with you. You would go off the deep end.”

That was my wake up call. I ended the relationship immediately, never looking back, and I made a promise to myself: Never again did I want to be in a relationship in which my partner felt manipulated, unintentionally or otherwise, into staying with me out of fear that I could not survive without them.

I’m not ashamed to say that codependency is something that I struggled with and, at times, still do. It makes perfect sense that, in the face of trauma and difficulty, I adapted the only way I knew how. It’s completely understandable; I have a lot of compassion for myself in this way.

But now that I know better, I work diligently to ensure that my relationships are healthy, and that I’m able to take care of myself instead of using my relationships to avoid confronting my mental illnesses.

By no means should we shame ourselves for the coping strategies we created when we didn’t know better – every one of us, especially those of us with trauma, has created maladaptive ways of dealing with stress.

But we owe it to ourselves and the folks that we love to work on it, especially because codependency can do real harm to both ourselves and our partners (and some of these relationships can become abusive – a real risk that we must be honest with ourselves about and be accountable for).

For me, my healing process began with self-care.

 

How Self-Care Helped Me Shift Away From Codependency

A practice of self-care can be absolutely radical for folks who struggle with codependency as their coping strategy. The idea that we can rely on ourselves to deal with stress and trauma runs completely counter to everything we’ve learned to do over the years.

In my community, we talk about a “radical practice of self-care.” It’s the idea that an intentional effort to nurture and affirm ourselves can be immensely helpful for our mental health, transformative in a world that tells us that putting ourselves first is a selfish act, and psychologically necessary as we endure the injustices of this world.

It’s pretty fucking awesome if you ask me.

But too often, we don’t acknowledge that for some of us, self-care is not only radical – it’s actually tremendously difficult and even painful if our only coping strategy involves, quite literally, the opposite of self-care.

For folks who struggle with codependency, I want to acknowledge and validate that this shit is hard for us. Self-care goes against everything we know.

So let me say it loud and clear: I get it. Codependency comes from a place of hurt and fear. Carrying that around day in and day out is not easy. And so I validate that, completely.

It’s not just about learning to take care of ourselves. It’s not just about reading a good book when we’re sad, or taking a walk to clear our heads. For us, dealing with stress is never that simple.

Self-care for people with codependent patterns is also about unlearning these maladaptive behaviors that, for many of us, have developed over the course of years and even decades.

These coping mechanisms can be so ingrained that it makes us behave and react in ways that we find difficult and even impossible to control. For us, the stakes with self-care are much, much higher.

If this is your struggle, I’m here to say that I totally know those feelings. And I want this conversation to be a safe space in which I can encourage you to take baby steps towards shifting away from codependency and, instead, developing a practice of self-care that can work for you.

Self-care has helped to empower me to take control over my own mental health, my own happiness, and begin to find new tools to call upon when I’m encountering a stressor in my life. It’s helped to bring more balance into both my own life and into my relationships.

And best of all, it’s helped me to feel confident that I can survive on my own. My well-being no longer depends on whether or not someone is there to support me or rescue me. I have been able to let go of the fear that everything will fall apart if my partner isn’t there.

That peace of mind – the assurance that I will be okay – is the reason why I believe that we need conversations like this. No one should have to live with the absolute terror that their world will fall apart unless that certain someone is there to take care of them.

You can take care of you. And while friends, partners, family, and community can be a part of that care, they aren’t the only tool that you have. It’s empowering to know that you are in the driver’s seat of your own healing.

 

My Self-Care Tips For Folks Struggling With Codependency

This is, of course, just the beginning of a larger conversation. But I want to offer some quick tips that you can walk away with, right now, to begin your practice of self-care.

 

1. Seek out a therapist.

I realize that this isn’t accessible to everyone, but if it’s possible, a counselor or therapist can be absolutely invaluable in helping you to cultivate resilience as you unlearn codependency.

 

2. Bookmark this self-care guide and USE IT.

If you get nothing else from the article but this link, I’ll still be happy.

I love this guide because it feels conversational. It’s exactly like having a friend or partner there to walk you through what you need to do to be well, except it requires no one but yourself to actually use.

It’s basically an interactive quiz that gives you advice on how to react to stress. By using it often, you gradually learn healthy ways to respond when you are struggling with a trigger or episode.

As far as I know, the only time it involves another person is if you indicate that you are lonely, in which it encourages you to reach out. All the other advice can be put into motion on your own. This is great for those of us who are working towards being more self-reliant.

I keep it in my bookmark tabs so I see it every time I open my browser. And I use it. Often. Like, literally every time I’m upset.

 

3. Create a Self-Care First Aid Kit

I encourage anyone, codependent or otherwise, to get an old box or container of some kind and put together a “feel good” kit for those inevitable shit days.

Some suggestions on what you could include: A bottle of your favorite scented lotion or bath product to lather up with, a favorite upbeat album to dance to, a favorite movie with a bag of microwavable popcorn, a stuffed animal to cuddle with when it gets rough, a book that makes you laugh when you read it, a box of tissues for when you’re crying, a super soft pair of socks that make you feel cozy, a candle or incense you could light, a crisis hotline number if you feel you might hurt yourself (even if you don’t think you’ll need it, please include it), and a list of phone numbers for three friends or family members that you can call (not including the partner or individual you have a dependent relationship with).

You don’t have to go out and buy these things – they can be items you already have on hand or you can ask if any friends have items they might donate. The idea is that if you keep these things in one place, they’ll be easy to access and you’ll be more likely to use them.

 

4. Seek Out More Resources On Self-Care

I personally believe that you can never have too many articles, print-offs, and videos on self-care. The more ideas and suggestions, the better!

I wrote another guide that talks about self-care for folks with anxiety, which included my favorite video on self-care by my lovely friend Melissa Fabello (seriously, watch the video, it’s required). Everyday Feminism has another great self-care guide if you’re looking for more general guidance.

If you struggle with mental illness or with your mental health in general, print off this list of affirmations. I wrote them just for you and I want you to read them. Often.

Lastly, there are entire communities online dedicated to radical self-care. Some are specific to fat folks, queer folks, people of color (fun fact: radical self-care originated from women activists of color), etc etc.

My favorite place to find these communities happens to be on Tumblr, but you can find them on many of your favorite platforms. Don’t be afraid to investigate and find a community that works for you!

 

5. Realize That Unlearning This Takes Time

Be gentle with yourself. For many, codependency emerged as a survival strategy in the face of neglect, trauma, or illness. It is important to be compassionate with yourself and honor the journey you are on, however slow the pace may be.

It is a tremendous thing to be self-aware in the face of codependent behaviors, and to choose another path. That is an incredibly brave thing to do.

I believe in you and I’m proud of you. Please know that healing from the trauma that comes with codependency is not only possible – but it’s something that you are absolutely worthy and deserving of.

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7 Ways to Lovingly Support Your Gender Non-Binary Partner

This is a piece I posted over at Everyday Feminism that I wanted to cross-post here. This advice, while geared towards romantic partners, can more generally be applied to anyone who has a gender non-binary person in their life.

The image features the author, Sam, playfully biting his partner's face while his partner appears both confused and amused.

My fiance, Ray, and I. Yes, I am biting Ray’s face. Yes, there was consent.

I still remember the moment I came out as genderqueer to my then-partner. I was finally sharing a deep and important truth about myself: I was ready to transition and was overjoyed at the prospect of having my partner by my side.  

But for him, my transition was threatening.

“I just wouldn’t find you attractive anymore,” he told me.

That was all he would say about the matter. My heart broke that day.

While his sexual preferences are his prerogative, he had failed to be supportive. That made me afraid to transition. I was afraid of being abandoned, afraid that I could not be loved as I was.

I never brought it up again and delayed my transition until our eventual breakup a year later.

Partners can have a big impact on our transitions, for better or for worse. A partner’s reaction to our coming out can devastate us – as in my case. My partner’s reaction made me fearful that transitioning would ultimately result in tragedy.

I thought that it was better to live a lie than live without the person I loved, and that was not only unfair, but it was also untrue. It wasn’t my transition that was the problem – it was my partner’s lack of understanding and empathy for what I was going through.

Rejecting our transition is rejecting who we are on a deep and essential level, and the pain that comes with that can be agonizing.

But when our partners support us through this experience, it can make all the difference. It can make what can be a frightening beginning evolve into a beautiful journey.

This is why it’s so important to learn how to best support your non-binary partners.

If you are a cisgender partner looking to be supportive of your non-binary partner, you’ve already taken the first step. Making a commitment to being there for the person you love can make all the difference.

With that in mind, here are seven ways that you can support your non-binary partner:

1. Do Listen to Your Partner – Don’t Invalidate Their Experiences

If your partner has trusted you enough to talk about their gender and their experiences as non-binary, it is important not to break that trust.

If you aren’t non-binary, or even if you are, you may not relate to or understand everything your partner is saying. That understanding will come with time. Your job, for now, is to listen and validate those experiences.

Remember: This is your partner’s lived experience. And living as non-binary and coming out are often difficult experiences.

So telling your partner that their gender isn’t real, that it sounds absurd, or that you don’t believe what they’re saying are all offensive and awful responses. Your partner’s gender identity is for them to declare – and not for you to interrogate.

If your partner is coming out, believe them. If they are sharing something they have lived through, believe them.

A supportive partner is a partner that doesn’t undermine, talk over, or insult their non-binary partner. A supportive partner will do exactly that – support them.

Simply validating your non-binary partner’s experiences can go a long way.

2. Do Be Honest About Your Feelings – Don’t Prioritize Your Feelings Over Your Partner’s

You are allowed to be afraid. You are allowed to be confused. You are allowed to be sad.

Your partner’s identity can have an impact on your relationship, and that can bring about a lot of changes that are intimidating and even scary.

You should be honest about how you feel and talk about your feelings. However, it’s important that when you do disclose how you feel, you are doing it at the right time and aren’t prioritizing your feelings over your partner’s.

For example, when I came out to my ex, he didn’t offer his support or engage with what I had said.

Instead, he prioritized his feelings over mine. He de-centered a conversation about my identity, and instead, refocused it on himself, without indicating that he had heard what I said or cared.

Instead, think of phrasing it this way: “Thank you for trusting me with this. I am completely supportive of your transition and believe you should do what you need to do to be happy. I have some fears, but we can talk about that whenever you’re ready.”

When you’re discussing your partner’s gender identity, whether they’ve just come out or it’s years after the fact, it’s important to give your non-binary partner the space to talk about their identity without worrying that you will take it as an opportunity to talk about you and your feelings instead.

Be honest about how you feel, but discuss those feelings in a way that is respectful of your partner and allows them to feel heard.

3. Do Educate Yourself About Non-Binary People – Don’t Expect Your Partner to Teach You

If you want your non-binary partner to love you forever, doing some research on your own time is the way to their heart, I promise.

While it’s great to ask questions and be curious, your partner wants to be your partner – not your educator. The role of an educator can be stressful, tedious, and tiring. It’s also unfair to expect your partner to teach you everything there is to know.

There are great resources around the net. Everyday Feminism actually has a whole guide to non-binary gender. Reading about some myths regarding non-binary folks is always a good idea, and brushing up on your terminology never hurts.

Read about non-binary people and their experiences. I’ve got a pretty interesting blog if I do say so myself, and Neutrois Nonsense is another one of my personal favorites. If you’re on Twitter, I am a big fan of Charlie (@cutequeer96) who always keeps it real.

Tumblr has an abundance of resources. One of the particularly awesome ones, Ask a Non-Binary, allows users to anonymously ask questions about non-binary identities. They have tags where you can read up on previously asked questions as well.

Non-binary people can sometimes feel like mythical creatures if we don’t know where to look. But the Internet is a magical place, my friend, so use it!

4. Do Be Mindful of the Language That You Use – Don’t Forget to Use That Language at All Times

This is a given, but using your partner’s pronouns is not optional – it’s mandatory.

This also means the language you use to describe your partner may have to change.

Ask your partner if they are comfortable being referred to as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” or if a neutral term like “partner” is what they prefer. Be sure to check in about nicknames you’ve given each other, too; your pet names might need an update as well.

If friends or family are using the wrong pronouns, educate them and remind them of your partner’s pronouns.

Don’t expect your partner to do all the work. Be an ally, and call out incorrect language usage when you see it, so that your partner doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone.

Finally, use the correct terminology at all times, unless they’ve stated otherwise. Don’t use their pronouns in front of them, but use the incorrect pronouns behind their back.

Yes, you might trip up sometimes. But as long as you’re putting in a sincere effort, your partner will definitely appreciate it.

5. Do Offer to Help in Whatever Ways You Can – Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best for Them

Your non-binary partner may need your help from time to time, as being non-binary isn’t always easy.

Dysphoria, for example, is a very real part of my life. I often feel depression and panic in relation to certain gendered parts of my body, like my chest, and need my partners to be patient when I’m having a difficult time.

I also feel particularly distressed after family gatherings, where I am misgendered or criticized for my gender presentation. My partners know that after such get-togethers, I may need extra support and care.

Ask your partner how you can help.

Do they need you to accompany them to a hormone therapy appointment? Do they want a chest binder for their birthday? Do they want you to accompany them when they go dress shopping? Do they need a nice, home-cooked meal on days when their dysphoria keeps them in bed?

Don’t assume that you know what they need or what their triggers are. Instead, let them teach you about their needs. You may be surprised.

6. Do Have Conversations About Boundaries – Don’t Push Those Boundaries

This article on having sex with trans folks is required reading if, at some point in the future, you and your partner plan on becoming intimate or if you’re already doing the deed.

Boundaries are an important thing to keep in mind with your partner, especially since you may be unfamiliar with what kinds of boundaries your non-binary partner has or what could trigger dysphoria.

Having conversations about what parts of the body are okay to touch, what kinds of sexual acts your partner is comfortable with, and what your partner needs during a sexual encounter are all important things to talk about before getting busy – not after something has gone wrong.

It’s important to have this conversation even if you don’t plan on having sex or if your partner identifies as asexual.

Physical boundaries exist in contexts beyond sex. For example, your partner may not be comfortable with PDA, or might find it triggering to be pulled in for a hug by their hips.

Talk about touch – what to touch, what not to touch, and where the boundaries are. And respect those boundaries, always.

7. Do Be Supportive Without Conditions – Don’t Discourage Your Partner from Transitioning

Regardless of how you feel about your partner’s identity, transition, or body, you should be unconditionally loving and supportive.

If your partner wants to bind their breasts, it’s their right to. If your partner wants to start wearing dresses, it’s their choice. If your partner is going to grow a beard, power to them.

Being supportive means respecting the choices your non-binary partner makes about their body and their gender expression, regardless of what your feelings about it may be.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts. No “if you don’t cut your hair,” no “and I can’t call you by that name,” no “but your pronouns are so confusing.”

If you can’t love your partner for who they really are, in whatever gendered or non-gendered form that takes, you need to ask yourself if this relationship is right for you both.

A transition could be a deal-breaker for you. And you need to be honest if that’s the case.

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Today, I am happily engaged to my biggest supporter — one who helped me through every step of my transition. They helped me squeeze into my first chest binder, they were the first to try out my masculine pronouns, and they taught me how to tie a tie.

On more than one occasion, they left work early when my dysphoria had me hiding beneath the covers. Without a complaint, they crawled into bed with me where we watched home renovation programs and chatted about dream apartments and hardwood floors and termites until we fell asleep.

Having someone by my side through it all helped me to realize how much of a difference a compassionate partner can make.

At the end of the day, the best way to support a non-binary partner is to give them the love, encouragement, and room they need to grow.

Not only do they need that from you, they deserve it, too.

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