In sickness and in health
October 2, 2012 11:58 PM   Subscribe

What are your expectations for your boyfriend/girlfriend caring for you when you get sick with a cold?

I have a lot of issues around feeling cared for because my parents were neglectful and abusive.

They were pretty awful when I needed help as a child -- letting me sit in my own vomit, for example. Or not getting me glasses when my eyesight was so poor I couldn't see the blackboard at school.

Now I'm dating someone seriously and I'm not sure what to expect. We've been together for almost a year, are very close, but don't live together. We've had super serious conversations about the future.

At the moment, I'm not super sick, but I have a stuffed up nose and low fever. He's across town at his parents' house. I know he'd be there for me if I went to the hospital or needed crutches or something, but I'm not sure how to handle minor health issues.

So, Mefites in happy, healthy relationships, how does this work for you?

- Do you ask your SO for help? Do they just offer?
- Do they rush across town if you have a cold?
- How do they help you? What do they specifically do?
- What are reasonable expectations for help with minor things?


- Do you have issues like mine related to being cared for? How did you get over them and learn what was appropriate to ask for as far as help?
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (48 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
For minor colds/flus I generally want to be left alone. I don't want my friends around. I don't want my girlfriends around. I don't want them to get sick.

I honestly don't need help, and having them be sick too would make me miserable, so I don't want them to care for me.

I do, however, want them to offer to help and to come when called to help me if I do need them, trusting that I won't abuse this.

But ninety-nine times out of hundred, I don't want them there to get sick.
posted by bswinburn at 12:02 AM on October 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

When I'm sick, I like to be left entirely alone unless I am so very sick that I am at a serious risk to my health if someone doesn't take care of me. My current girlfriend likes to be mostly left alone, but is appreciative if I run to the store for her and drop things off at her house. My ex liked to be fussed over (food preparation, assistance bathing, reading her favorite childhood books aloud to her, etc.) to a degree that would make me very uncomfortable if someone were to do it to me, but I was happy to do it for her.

In a healthy relationship, everyone should be allowed to set their own comfort level, and everyone should feel free to ask their partner(s) for whatever they need. You would be well within your rights to ask your partner to perform any act of assistance that will comfort you, or to run errands, or to leave you the Hell alone if that is your preference, but it is your responsibility to make your expectations known.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:06 AM on October 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

- Do you ask your SO for help? Do they just offer?
Both. Because different people have different beliefs/standards/goals, in a successful long term relationship, I think you get very good at flagging your needs and communicating your expectations in "safe" ways usually before push comes to shove.

- Do they rush across town if you have a cold? Well, my partner and I have been living together for nearly a decade, but generally the other person is a guide for how to react. Do they look sick? Are they acting sick? I have a chronic illness that is sometimes much worse than at other times, my partner has become very adroit at picking up my cues, but I have also become very good at communicating how bad it is at any given point in time, because I know that it's not necessarily visible.

- How do they help you? What do they specifically do? Could be anything. Could be making me dinner, or doing a job like cleaning or something that I usually do, or a back rub, or picking up something to make me feel better - could be medicine, could be a hot drink or whatever for comfort.

- What are reasonable expectations for help with minor things?
There are very few "reasonable" expectations. Every relationship is different and every person in a relationship has different needs, physical, mental, interpersonal etc. What's reasonable to me, may not be reasonable to you or someone else. Some people like attention when they're sick; some hate it.

What matters most is how you feel about the level of support, and an understanding that your partner may come from a different place to you in regards to this - which is why communicating your needs and expectations, in a low-risk, non-confrontational way is such a vital skill to successful relationships.

I can see why you mention your upbringing as an issue to this in your question - there's a lot about what's appropriate for someone to do, for you, but if you lack the "benchmark", surely you should be just as lacking when it comes to how to respond to others when they are sick? But there's no questions about that, and this is what I mean about the importance of communicating and establishing what's right for you in relationships. Your partner may or may not be comfortable with your reactions to their illnesses, either..

- Do you have issues like mine related to being cared for? How did you get over them and learn what was appropriate to ask for as far as help?

I don't, I'm lucky enough to say. But I think learning when to ask for help, how to ask for it, how to get it and when to do without it is a lifelong skill that everyone needs to learn and constantly develop it. You could do this with the aid of a counsellor if you felt the need was pressing enough.

But broadly, I think this is something that all couples learn and execute together. There's no set path, and no set standard as to how much is too much or too little. I think it's great that you've recognised a lot of the emotion you might bring to these issues comes from inside you and your childhood - and it's emotion and context your partner probably won't share so a different mindset is expected and understandable.

Ask for the reaction you would like gently, respectfully, and in non-accusatory manner. Your partner may say, "Yes indeed!", or may push back a little and negotiate with you to get a reaction that you're both comfortable and happy with. This is a normal part of serious relationships and is to be neither feared nor avoided. And you definitely shouldn't feel that you're losing something by adjusting your expectations, or that it's indicative of your worth to someone else.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 12:20 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

The expectation between me and my partner is that the not-sick person gets the sick person some supplies (since sick person is too miserable to shop). Also the not-sick person generally spends some time with the sick person if the sick person is feeling lonely and desiring company, if there are no super important events happening on the same day.
posted by Hawk V at 12:21 AM on October 3, 2012 [18 favorites]

Do you WANT your partner to be taking care of you right now? That's what really matters.

If so, shoot him a text and say, "Baby, I feel really lousy right now and could use a little TLC. :(" Then if he asks what he can do, tell him. Maybe you want some company. Ask for that. Maybe soup sounds good. Ask for that. Your partner can't read your mind, and it is okay to ask them for what you need.

I have problems with being cared for, too, but I genuinely don't like having somebody take care of me when I'm sick though I love taking care of others when they are.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:22 AM on October 3, 2012 [26 favorites]

One of the first, primary reasons I figured out that my best friend and I would never be able to make it work romantically was that when he's sick, he wants to be left alone. And when I'm sick, I want to be taken care of. More importantly to me somehow is that when he's sick I want to take care of him and he doesn't let me - over ten years of being besties and this is like our only remaining sticking point.

When I'm sick I want my S.O. to make me tea, and ask if I need anything. Stuff that is reasonable to ask for is basically anything you can buy at a drug or grocery store, low-level chores or errands (nothing that takes any elbow grease or a very long time), and providing various kinds of light distraction from my ailing corporeal body, like movies or bringing me comics or talking to me on the phone. Stuff that isn't reasonable to ask for are things that really infringe upon their own time and lives; but how much time and how big a part of their lives am I normally? Just replace the fun date stuff with buying the lotiony tissues or skyping because I'm contagious, you know? Anything beyond that needs to be offered by my S.O. although, in the interest of full disclosure, I do get quite whiny and grumpy and vocalize things that "would be nice" that are basically optional requests. So if they offer to change my sheets and wash my dishes, I'm not going to say no. But mostly I just want them to bring me tea and listen to me whine about feeling bad.

You are entirely, completely within your rights to both not like to take care of sick people and want to be taken care of when you are sick, as well as the other way around, or any combination, really.

It would be okay to ask your boyfriend to generically take care of you. Then you can sort of see what he is naturally inclined to do, and if he doesn't do TLC to your liking (either too much, not enough, whatever it might be) then you are totally within normal bounds to ask for a change. I think it would be a really good idea to ask him what he'd like you to do when he gets sick as well. Because it's been a year! He's bound to get sick at some point. Just hopefully not whatever you've got now!
posted by Mizu at 12:29 AM on October 3, 2012

I think people's wants and needs vary so much in this area, it's important to ask for what you want. Some people want to be left alone when they are ill, some want to be smothered, and it's fruitless to expect people to guess.

In my case, for a cold it's pretty much "business as usual" and all I'd expect is that I might cancel a date because I don't want you to catch it. If I was ill in bed I might call asking someone to pick me up tissues and soup. But I'm not you. What would you really like him to do?
posted by emilyw at 12:33 AM on October 3, 2012

Response by poster: It's weird -- I don't know what I'd like him to do. Making sure that he's not resentful of me, and that I'm not asking for too much, is way more important to me than any particular thing he might do.

I feel like I'd like to know that someone cares about me, but I really don't *need* anything. I can order food in if I'm hungry, and work or watch TV if I'm bored. There's a part of me that says that I don't really *need* anything at all -- I survived this long with no one caring about me.

It just would be great to know that someone cares. I don't need anything in particular, just to know that I'm loved.

My boyfriend seems to have a love language of "acts of service" and really likes to DO things for me. He's always fixing things for me, taking care of me in real, physical ways. He doesn't like to give presents, be romantic, etc. He also likes it when I do real, physical things for him, although that doesn't come naturally to me.
posted by 3491again at 12:42 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My family background is fairly healthy, but I will give my two cents for reference. My partner and I are in a long-term (4+ years) but still very autonomous relationship. In writing the below, I realized that we behave very similarly toward each other in sickness situations.

When I (female) am sick, he (male) typically encourages me to take it easy, tells me to stay home from work, and offers to do basic tasks like pick up cold medicine -- which is help that I may or may not accept. He also asks after how I'm feeling when we catch up by phone or email, but may not go out of his way to see me unless I ask him. I feel comfortable enough in the relationship to say: "I feel crummy. I won't be a ton of fun, but it would make me feel better if you came by." Or, depending: "I feel crummy. Can we see each other tomorrow?" I trust him to do the same. However, knowing that he feels less comfortable asking, I try to volunteer a little more effort when I know he's not feeling great.

When I have a more serious illness (for example, a minor/moderate injury) he takes me to the doctor, picks up my prescription while I stay at home, and generally checks in on me and puts up with me. Likewise, when he experienced a moderate injury, I left work at 10 am and stayed with him at the hospital until about midnight when he was released, then stayed home from work for part of the next day to make sure he had groceries, medicine, etc.

I think this all comes down to thinking of each other as life partners who can't read minds. What do you need from your life partner? He or she wants to give you what you need. If you verbalize what you need, they will do what they can to help me you feel better.
posted by samthemander at 12:50 AM on October 3, 2012

I just saw your update. If what you need is emotional comfort, that's OK, and it's totally normal.

"This is goofy, but I'm just not feeling that great and I think what will make me feel better is seeing you/skyping with you/eating dinner with you/talking with you before I go to sleep/knowing about your day."

Seriously. Like I said, I'm in a very autonomous relationship, but this is not an unusual request. It's OK to need some emotional support from your partner. It's also OK if, during you conversation, you realize it's not meeting your needs and you need something else. My suggestion is to just take a moment, even ask to call him/her back later when you've had a chance to collect your thoughts. You're sick! You'll get better! And your partner will be there through the sickness, with you while you feel badly and when you're feeling better.
posted by samthemander at 12:57 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes I am very much like you.

You need to be clear about what you want from your partner. I had a similar upbringing to you and I have a chronic illness. There are times when I am in pain or severe discomfort, having trouble breathing etc and am really very scared and need company. For years I thought my partner didn't care or thought I was being melodramatic or my blaming me for being ill.

We only just got around to talking about this, when I found he is like many others in this thread. He prefers to be left alone if he is ill. All this time he was trying to respect my space, it was none of what I assumed. He did not know I wanted his support. (In fact your post has actually helped me understand why I feel this way and give me a way to explain this feeling to my partner. So thanks.)

Nip this in the bud and discuss your expectations now. I know you're only talking about colds, but if this relationship gets more serious, the likelihood of in sickness and in health becomes greater. Best talk about this now. You partner should help you work together on something that is reasonable and meets you emotional needs.

To answer you question about colds, I don't expect much at all. I know on the scale if things, it's small potatoes and I don't expect any special favours. I found out through dating people and having relationships. I was lucky enough to learn to pick partners wisely and learned normal behaviour from them. Again, that was pure dumb luck.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:58 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you are specifically asking about a cold: No way in hell would I ask someone to come be with me. (I might be particularly emphatic because I'm on day 8 of a bastard fuck of a cold, and the thought of passing this crap on to someone I love is repugnant.) Unless you are on your deathbed or have no food in the house at all, it's okay to get your luv via text.

Broken legs, cancer, stubbed toes, being under sedation, those are all different.
posted by sageleaf at 1:13 AM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

I like having things done for me when I'm not 100%, but I don't expect it. I feel loved every time my boyfriend fixes my computer or makes sure we have lemon and ginger stocked in the fridge. However, sometimes when I have a cold actually getting up and doing things makes me feel better emotionally - if not physically! So if my boyfriend turns around and says 'you've been wanting to rearrange that bookshelf for ages, let's do it' then I'm very happy.

In my opinion, you can't expect your boyfriend to drop any commitments because you have a cold. However, you can expect the same behaviour that you should always expect in a loving partnership: regular contact, understanding, and comfort. If you need him to show you a little bit more affection because you're feeling a bit rough, tell him to give you a call.
posted by dumdidumdum at 1:17 AM on October 3, 2012

It's not really about what you actually need - I don't need my husband to make me tea, but dang do I feel loved and taken care of when he does!
It's about what makes you feel better. You grew up without the luxury of TLC so it feels foreign to ask for some. But asking and getting what you want is awesome. If he likes tasks, give him a task: "can you phone me and tell me a funny story?" "can you say 'poor little sick bunny' to me again? And again?"

I try not to bother him with requests more often than he does me, but it is comforting enough to know he'll cheerfully do these things for me.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:43 AM on October 3, 2012

If you're stuck in bed you get looked after. If you're not ill enough for that then care might be limited to picking up lemsip and/or tissues, cooking if you live together, maybe some cooking or some sourcing of food if you don't. A cold would be in the latter category for me. Also, much less kissing.
posted by biffa at 1:44 AM on October 3, 2012

Being sick is actually a tough thing to negotiate in a relationship, and it's a thing on which the sick person must be clear about their desires and boundaries, and the well person must be very understanding and forgiving.

When we didn't live together, what I wanted from a partner was a grocery/drug store run to get me gatorade and sudafed and pick up a prescription and a trashy magazine and drop it all off for me. That's awful kind of someone, even if you ask them and lay out exactly what you want/need. (And I've asked friends, too.) Maybe even an errand to get you some hot soup at Panera or whatever. If I'm miserable but mobile, maybe we watch something on TV before you leave, without any Thyphoid Mary stuff going down. Miserable and in bed, just look soothing and move on.

You have to be really upfront and honest -- for me, it'd be, "I'd love to see you, maybe in the afternoon when I'm more with it. And it'd be awesome for you to pick up a few supplies for me. I don't want to get you sick, but if I'm doing okay, maybe we can watch a movie and you can rub my aching back. And then you can go away and I can be grumpy by myself for a wile."

You want to know he cares about you ... say that. Ask if he'd mind picking up some food -- sick person grocery supplies, excellent soup you can share, a trashy managine. I mean, give him something he can do for you that will help you feel better.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:01 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

For a minor cold or flu such as you've described, and a non-live-in SO, I wouldn't expect more than supportive phone calls or messages.

For a minor cold and a live-in SO, soothing commentary plus fetching things like more juice or tissues.

For a major issue, such as a broken leg & crutches (i.e., mobility issues) or a hospitalization, a more hands-on approach would be good, whether SO lives in or out.
posted by easily confused at 2:22 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think another factor is geography. If you are out in the countryside and not feeling safe to drive you might be reasonable to ask them to bring over some supplies. But if you live next door to a supermarket and asked someone to bring over supplies then I think that would be considered malingering.

For non live together couples I think I've always expected them to deal with a cold by themselves.

If you live together though, the non-sick person would usually do all the cooking and deal with household stuff while the other is sick. fill up a hot water bottle etc..
posted by mary8nne at 2:43 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You would be well within your rights to ask your partner to perform any act of assistance that will comfort you, or to run errands, or to leave you the Hell alone if that is your preference, but it is your responsibility to make your expectations known.

I'd like to add that the partner is also well within their rights to politely refuse to perform requested acts if they are uncomfortable with them.
posted by parrot_person at 3:19 AM on October 3, 2012

Everyone differs. Like a few other people in this forum, when I am sick I just want to be left alone.

I am also somewhat germ-averse, and while I consider myself to be a caring and considerate person who does what he can to help people who are unwell, I think it is unfair to be forced into a situation where there is a good chance I can get sick too.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:58 AM on October 3, 2012

Response by poster: I guess another layer is that he really loves being taken care of when he's sick, kind of like Parasite Unseen's ex. Special foods, company, etc.
posted by 3491again at 3:58 AM on October 3, 2012

I guess another layer is that he really loves being taken care of when he's sick, kind of like Parasite Unseen's ex. Special foods, company, etc.

Well, that's him. You're you. I mean, with a cold, I generally am good with any S.O.'s calling me and saying sympathetic things. MAYBE dropping off kleenex or Sudafed if I were running low and didn't feel like going out to get it. But if he came over and were physically present I'd feel the need to "entertain" him, and I'd hate that. Maybe you're the same way. (Mind you, if we were living together, I'd hope he would make the kleenex run and maybe let me have the good couch, but that's still kind of it.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 AM on October 3, 2012

I was sick. I needed help (not comfort), so I rang the ex (amicable) to come and take me to a laundromat so I could catch up on washing, go food shopping for me (so I didn't starve), pick up some dinner (ditto), and do my dishes, because I had been too sick to do same. This I would expect - no, hope for - from a lover/boyfriend, but only if I needed help. The comfort thing, I'd probably wish they'd come round to make me chicken soup and fluff my pillows, but I wouldn't ask, or hold it against them if they didn't.
posted by b33j at 4:21 AM on October 3, 2012

One thing that can happen when you grow up without being taken care of well is that you stop wanting to be taken care of, sort of as a self-defense mechanism against disappointment. It can be hard to turn on the wanting mechanism again if no one spent time asking or honoring what you wanted when you were growing up. In the context of your new trusted relationship, you get to explore what it means to want and to have those desires met. This can be confusing, since you probably never really learned how to communicate those desires, since it wasn't safe, and suppressed the feelings of desire in yourself. You might give yourself permission to ask for things, even if you're not entirely sure you want them, just to try on the feeling and the experience.
posted by judith at 4:38 AM on October 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

For colds, it is generally accepted to be left alone and to avoid spreading germs unless there is a medical emergency. Of course it is different living in the same flat/house. A dedicated friend will at least stop by with flowers or soup or picking up drugs when you can't get out of the house. Expecting them to sit by your bedside when you just have a cold or fever might be a little extreme.
posted by JJ86 at 5:35 AM on October 3, 2012

Any kind of sickness that is contagious or involves substances exiting my body from any orifice at high speeds or in large quantities, I want to be left alone until it is over. Full stop. I don't even want them in the house with me if it can be managed.

Any kind of injury where I can't get around without assistance, I would like minimal assistance and general lack of boisterousness in my presence, but really, most of the time I prefer taking care of myself as much as possible.

My mom was very relentlessly hovery with me when I was sick as a kid so naturally that is the exact opposite of what I want as an adult, basically.

In the reverse situation, I am happy to wait on and generally low-to-mid level pamper my SO's and good friends when they are injured/recovering from surgery, but unless we are already living together, I am going to avoid them like the plague if they have a gross drippy cold or ass demons.
posted by elizardbits at 5:42 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the least I would expect visits with meds, food or entertainment. Have a pet? Then walkies a, litterbox cleaning and other things to help out. I do not expect being catered to but I do expect care which is returned or provided. When a friend is ill, you check if they need or want anything and to lessen the dependency sting I happen to be passing by 'cause I wander the earth.
posted by jadepearl at 5:42 AM on October 3, 2012

If he resents you for requesting that he give you a little time to comfort you when you're not feeling well, then he's a jerk and you're better off without him. That's not a big request, but you have to ask for what you want.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:01 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a good thing for couples to discuss because it is easy to become outraged at each other because the norms are so different. In my upbringing if you had nausea at night you privately puked, cleaned up and went back to bed. It wasn't necessary or acceptable to notify anyone else during the night. I've met people who feel like the world comes to a screeching halt when they have a runny nose or cough. I've pissed off some people because I thought they should harden up a bit or get on with it.

Catching cold for many people recalls their childhood. I understand how some people want to be fawned over and tended. It makes sense, but beyond picking up the sick person's household chores, minding the kids and helping the sick to rest I don't see much value doing much more. For what it is worth, when I'm sick I like to have a little space and leniency to get to bed early, but I'm a low maintenance sort of person in all manner of health.
posted by dgran at 6:22 AM on October 3, 2012

I'm lucky, Husbunny was an RN.

When I'm sick, I want to be left alone with my tissues, bed, kitties, glass of grape juice and aspirin.

I was super, super sick with the flu during Atlanta's "Snowpocalypse." Basically we got snow and ice in Atlanta and the city shut down for a week. The supplies slowly dwindled in the house, and Husbunny doesn't cook. Not anything. We ran out of everything.

Finally, after about 4 days in bed, sipping 7-up and feeling dizzy, I got up, got dressed and we got into the car to drive out into the world. Our neighborhood was cordoned off with barricades, but we made it onto the main road and to the grocery store. I stocked up on apple sauce, more grape juice, ginger ale, jello, chicken soup, etc. He might have put some real food in the basket, but I'm not all that clear on that part of it.

My point, I need Husbunny to check in on me and to keep the house stocked with whatever it is I think I want to eat.

But that's what I need.

Most adults when they have a cold, usually just take whatever medications make them feel better and lay around the house until they're well.

As for Husbunny, I lay in his supplies, make sure he takes drugs and leave him be to sleep.

Everyone is different. You need to decide what you want and then ask for it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 AM on October 3, 2012

It's always okay to ask for what you need.

I would ask my partner for stuff if I had a cold and was feeling miserable. I might ask him if he could swing by with soup or medicine on his way home if he wasn't far. I wouldn't expect him to cancel any commitments he's got because I've got a cold--surgery, injury, a chronic illness, something where I really needed help, I would expect that from him (and I would do that for him without a second thought).

Also your relationship is pretty new, in the grand scheme of things. You're still figuring each other out. Learning how to ask for what you want and need is part of it, eventually you will probably be able to anticipate what the other person wants/needs
posted by inertia at 6:46 AM on October 3, 2012

Making sure that he's not resentful of me, and that I'm not asking for too much, is way more important to me than any particular thing he might do.

This is upside-down thinking. You are trying to prevent a negative outcome, and by doing so you are making a positive outcome impossible. Start with saying "I would like you do do X" and let him say ok or "I'd prefer to do Y," or, if he's the type to resent you silently instead of talking to you, then you move on. It starts with you stating what you want and it ends with you both having your needs met. Ex: you want soup and tissues, but you're contagious so it's better that he stay away, so instead of feeding you soup he calls you and says nice things, and texts you with sweet words or doctor jokes or whatever, and although you don't get what you want (him there beside you), you do get what you need (affection and caring).

And because your background makes you lack perspective about what's a reasonable request (I can ID w/that), you can absolutely be honest here and say to him, "you know, I don't even know specifically what I want from you, but getting sick makes me feel lonely and scared too" and be open to what he says or does in response.
posted by headnsouth at 6:52 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm coming from a slightly different angle. I had a chronic illness as a little kid and was a burden on my parents for a year or so, so now I totally write-off minor illnesses and tend to treat anything not ER worthy as a minor inconvenience and try to power through it. My husband knows this, so sometimes will make sure I actually take care of yourself. So, while I don't expect him to take care of me (I actually want to be left alone to recoup with a book as my trusted companion), I do expect him to be a reality-check when I'm being a weirdo about a normal sickness.

On his side, I can tell when he's not feeling well because he all of a sudden acts like a jerk. Then I ask, so... how are you feeling honey? And, 99% of the time, it is.. man, my allergies are killing me (or broken toe or something else).

We don't physically do much for each other besides the occasional Walgreens/CVS run or making tea, and have never been the 'stop and drop off soup' types when dating. However, a reminder to call the doctor/take off the day if needed, a shoulder to complain on, and an extra dose of tolerance should always be at hand.
posted by ejaned8 at 6:54 AM on October 3, 2012

In my relationship, if I am sick my partner will let me whine and moan and complain about how I am too young to die. He will get me cups of hot tea and put the blanket in the drier to warm up before he gives it to me. He will buy me the juice I want and download the movies I want and get them all ready to go on the PS3 to watch while he is at work. He checks in on my via email/text throughout the day and calls me at lunch time. He keeps our 5 year old occupied quietly in the evenings.

When he is sick I let him whine and moan and suffer, all the while denying that he is sick. I take over all chores in the house and encourage him to give his body a rest and to just chill out. I give him snuggles at night and I make sure he has whatever foods he is even faintly interested in because when he is sick he invariably doesn't want to eat. I check in on him during the day via email/text and call him at lunch and see if he needs me to pick him up anything on my way home from work that evening. I keep our 5 year old occupied quietly in the evenings.

This is what we do, and we know that is what we sort of expect from each other since we've discussed it. While he is sick, if he is feeling the need to shut down and be alone he says so, otherwise I coo after him. I always want attention and am a total drama queen when I am sick, so he indulges that as much as he can.

If you want help, if you want him to take care of you, then ask. Say "I feel miserable and lonely. I would love if you could just come snuggle me and take care of me a bit. And could you pick me up some soup? Would that be okay?"
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:00 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband and I generally get sick at the same time. One of us will get sick and the other one will inevitably be sick within 48 hours.

That being said, he likes to be left alone to sleep, largely. I make dinner and get him what he needs. I'm much more of a needy whiner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:53 AM on October 3, 2012

- Do you ask your SO for help? Do they just offer?
My SO generally expects me to ask for help when I need it. I am, however, totally screwed up in that I get annoyed when I can't do things on my own, and I hate asking for help. I am learning to ask, and he is learning to offer more, and the more we talk about it, the better it gets.

- Do they rush across town if you have a cold?
No. I wouldn't expect him to. I would, however, hope he would at least call to say, "Are you feeling any better?" Sometimes he does - but if he is busy at work I try not to hold it against him. Sometimes I succeed.

- How do they help you? What do they specifically do?
When asked, my husband will bring me soup, 7-up, get me a blanket, make sure we have good kleenex in the house, even go with me to the doctor if I ask. He will run out for medicine, he will make me tea, he will do more around the house.

- What are reasonable expectations for help with minor things?
Along the lines of my other answers above - I find a reasonable expectation in our case is that I may not get as much caring as I want sometimes, that I need to learn to ask more and not get upset when he can't read my mind. He may have to think more along the lines of "she hates asking for help so I need to be a little more careful I notice when she needs it."

- Do you have issues like mine related to being cared for? How did you get over them and learn what was appropriate to ask for as far as help?
My mom was (still is) completely neurotic and wavered between helping me because she loved the role of "kind mother helping her poor sick child" and being totally unaware I even had needs. So she would often volunteer to bring me soup but if I wasn't grateful she would turn off and leave me to suffer. Unless she was busy at work, in which case she wouldn't even know I existed unless I threw up, and then it was a lot of biting jokes about how I ruined the carpet/couch/car. I'm getting over it by learning to be a grown up and express my needs to my SO and those around me now.

My husband and I spent two years in a long distance relationship before we moved in together. The first year we were in the same house I got a horrible stomach flu that wiped me out completely. I was literally unable to care for myself for a good 48 hours, and I expected to have to struggle through it on my own, because it's what I'd done before him. He stepped in and cared for me, held my hair while I crouched over the toilet, cleaned me up, made sure I drank sips of water when I could, and never EVER complained. That was when I realized that he was amazing, that I was blessed. The stupid thing is that I spent the next few days berating myself for being so weak and needy. So when it's serious, when I am absolutely falling apart, I know he will be there. That seems to be the key here - not minor colds, but the really serious "can't care for myself" times. Those are the times when you see your SO for who they really are.
posted by routergirl at 8:15 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Its totally different person to person. In my experience I've found my girlfriends are needier when they're sick... they feel down in the dumps and crappy, and sometimes just want to cuddle up with me. I've accepted that if my girlfriend gets sick, I'm gonna get sick too. I don't mind doing this, I see it as catering to her needs to make her better faster.

Me personally, I wish I could just tell someone "I'm sick" and they know well enough to ignore me until I tell them "Ok, I'm better now." I hate any human interaction when I'm sick, but thats just me.
posted by el_yucateco at 8:18 AM on October 3, 2012

Oh, and as far as the opposite - my husband has never had more than a minor cold/flu since we've been together. When he's not feeling well he seems to be more of the "leave me alone" type of person. Though I still go out of my way a bit to make sure I bring him drinks and do more around the house, just because I think, "What would I want him to do if this was reversed?"
posted by routergirl at 8:22 AM on October 3, 2012

For minor illnesses, I have no expectations that my wife will do anything except tease me for being a big wuss and whining about my man cold. This was even more true when we were dating. Why would I expect her to come over? To feed me soup? If anything, I'm going to take care of her -- in the sense of trying to avoid making her sick -- by sleeping in the spare bedroom until I'm well again.

The same was mostly true of her expectations of me, though she certainly appreciated the few times that I did do the cliche thing of showing up with some chicken noodle soup.

For more major illnesses, yeah, it is nice if she helps me out. If I am bedridden, obviously I'm going to expect that she'll at least make my meals until I'm well enough to do it myself. I'd do the same for her. But, we've both got jobs and neither of us would expect the other to take a day off to tend to a sick spouse (if we're that sick we should probably be in the hospital).
posted by asnider at 8:45 AM on October 3, 2012

- Do you ask your SO for help? Do they just offer?

If we're cohabiting, both; if we're not, then probably neither. Depends.

- Do they rush across town if you have a cold?

Presuming this is the non-cohabiting version: not usually. Quarantine logic and whatnot. Though in your case ("serious" non-cohabiting, future-talk) I'd be pleased and not entirely surprised if I got a quick quarantine-respecting visit to drop off a little something, or pick me up some medication or such. I used to wander across town to feed an ex when she needed it.

- How do they help you? What do they specifically do?

In the cohabiting version: she lets me sleep more, feeds me a nice bowl or orzo or soup, maybe picks up medication if I ask and am too crappy to go out, occasionally pets my head and tells me I'll be ok.

- What are reasonable expectations for help with minor things?

I'm pretty open to trying to fulfill my partner's needs when she's sick, whatever they may be. It's one of the reciprocal bits of a relationship, covering for one another when we're weak. Unless she seemed to be getting sick every month and requiring days of close care.

Even then, at least for a long term partner I'm cohabiting with, caretaking is kinda part of the deal.

- Do you have issues like mine related to being cared for? How did you get over them and learn what was appropriate to ask for as far as help?

My issues around this have to do with specific actions that remind me of very specific awful situations, forms of either "caretaking" that were not-so-subtle abuse, or direct abuse; in those cases I tell my partner "hey, you need to not do things like this because of what they remind me of". If I had a particular need for caretaking left over from childhood, I think I'd probably say the same. Being able to state your needs, even seemingly silly or childish needs, is part of the vulnerability of a serious relationship.
posted by ead at 9:07 AM on October 3, 2012

Well. If I'm dating someone seriously, my expectation is that when I ask for something reasonable, they find a way to accommodate it, or at least approximate accommodation. I make my sick boundaries on the first instance of not feeling well, and try to guard them.

For me, it's mostly that I like to be left alone unless I ask for company. I do want offers of juice and crackers and maybe draw me a bath every now and then. But don't sit and stare at me. Go on with your work unless I need supervision. If I'm sniffly for more than 2 days, it's nice to have someone else strip the sheets for me unless I get energetic enough to do it myself.

If I've come out of surgery (which has only ever been my wisdom teeth, and my boyfriend at the time lived far away) I want quiet company. In that case, I had friends come stay with me.

I've been medium ill for a while now, and had for the most part been fine with the level of relationship care I'd been getting, but I was doing the majority of household maintenance except mopping and he'd cook about once a week. Now that I've been dumped, I'm looking back in hindsight and finding things to be pissy about. Try to avoid that if you can. It's misery on top of the misery piled onto misery.

So my advice is to check in occasionally about how your patterns are feeling for both of you. Just like there's no mind reading in the beginning, sometimes patterns develop that don't fit long term.
posted by bilabial at 9:19 AM on October 3, 2012

I'm a whiny need machine when sick, and I have no problems asking for minor stuff, which generally involves making pots and pots of hot tea, running out for OTC meds, providing reading material and nap times, and stocking up on Kleenex and food.

My SO is a bit more independent, he generally rumbles from the bed, shower, couch and will have to be reminded to be fed and watered. He generally thrives more on emotional support, and the odd 'poor baby' than physical care.

Everyone is different and it's totally okay to be however works for you and him. Ask for help, sympathy, tea or meds as needed, or just cocoon yourself until it passes.
posted by tatiana131 at 10:04 AM on October 3, 2012

I would suggest checking out An Adult Child's Guide to What's 'Normal'. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I had a really difficult time with questions like this. This book helped me understand what a healthy relationships should look like while spending less time worrying that I was doing something wrong.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 11:21 AM on October 3, 2012

It's entirely different for every person, there's no "couple" standard to apply.

I like to take care of people when they're sick, my husband like to be left alone when he's sick. So I leave him alone but fuss on demand; making him tea, fetching him extra blankets if he mentions being cold, etc. And it's pretty much the same for me when I'm sick, which works for me.

Ask what they want/like. Tell them what you want/like. As long as a partner's demands aren't unreasonable (24/7 attendance with a hot chicken soup IV installed), a good partner will make an effort to make their partner happy by treating them as they want to be treated.

And, as a dysfunctional neglected child myself, even a little affection and understanding and the occasional cup of tea can go a long way to make me happy when I'm ill, and that's totally within the absolute minimum a good partner will be happy to give without being asked.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:33 AM on October 3, 2012

Boyfriend and I are militantly independent when it comes to these things. Obsessively/ridiculously so. I don't know where his comes from, but mine comes from a lifetime of being told I was a hypochondriac. I feel guilty relying on other people for my health problems which may or may not actually all be in my head.

I got food poisoning about a year ago and by the time I started throwing up blood I decided it was time to go to the emergency room. I drove myself rather than making anyone else take me. That was, for the record, fucking stupid. Don't do that. By the time I got there, I shambled into the hospital through some darkened administrative building attached to the parking garage and asked a guard for directions to the ER. He pointed the way. And then I got (more) lost. I managed to get locked out of a building in an alley and had to shamble around the medical center until I found another entrance. By the time I got there, they'd already put out the alert that some poor dude was shambling around and looking not so great. And because I'm a hot mess, I didn't even initially ask those people to take me to the ER. I just asked them directions. Then when I took a couple steps and felt woozy/awful decided maybe I could possibly just go ahead and let them wheel me over there. Just this once. If that's what I'm like when I'm involuntarily puking up blood, you can guaran-damn-tee I'm not going to trouble anyone else when I have a cold.

I might barely notice if my boyfriend is sick. Not because I'm inattentive, but because he's got two settings: On and On-er. Basically, he never gets sick. But when he does, it isn't allowed to slow him down. Last time he wasn't feeling so hot, I picked up some canned soup for him and I think he was grateful.

Our response to offers of assistance tend to be identical: Oh no. Don't trouble yourself. Really. It's fine.

So if he's in need, I don't ask anymore. I just do something that might be helpful/nice, and I let him know I'm available. He's getting better about asking for help. I'm... not, really. But whatever. I'll get there. Or I wont. But we're fine either way.
posted by jph at 2:13 PM on October 3, 2012

OP, it sounds to me like your honey would probably respond well if you asked him for help, considering you've said he likes to be helpful and likes help when HE's sick. But judith made a really good point above: that if you're not used to anybody helping you, you tend to lose touch with what you need or would like from others. I do this all the time--it just never occurs to me to ask for help because I've never had anybody I could ask. And the thing is, my partner LIKES to help me, LIKES it when I ask, does not resent it, and tells me no when he can't do it. If I'm quiet or grumpy because I'm sick, he often feels rejected and useless because he really does want to help.

So think about it for a bit, consider what would make you feel better, and try asking.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:58 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a SO, but the last 2 years I've made a small group of wonderful male and female friends, and when I get sick they bring me groceries (they ask what I need) or takeaway and come and watch movies with me cos they know I get bored (they have much hardier immune systems than I do). If I'm really sick they bring me flowers cos they know they make me happy. This has really set the bar high for future SO, in fact my best girlfriend and I joke that guys we date have to be "soup level" nice guys ie they'd bring us soup if we were sick. Everyone's different but I feel really loved when people take care of me when I'm sick, cos when I'm sick I don't really have anything to offer them, and they still care about me being comfortable.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 7:08 AM on October 4, 2012

I guess I should add to that - it really took me some time to get used to accepting and asking for help. But people who care about you are generally only too happy to be there for you if you show them how.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 7:10 AM on October 4, 2012

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