Communication is key to any healthy relationship. The spoon theory, a popular metaphor in the chronic condition community, is a tool that can help strengthen your bond.
Most of us living with a chronic condition have heard of the spoon theory. It’s a useful metaphor where units of energy are transformed into spoons, helping us visualize how much energy it takes to complete tasks. It’s a wonderful tool many of us use to communicate our experience with chronic health issues with the important people in our lives.
We often lovingly call ourselves “spoonies” and break out the metaphor whenever a new spoonie enters our support groups online, or when explaining our lives to family and friends who are trying to understand our experience. Most of us rarely use it outside of that context.
However, I’ve found that the spoon theory is especially useful in my day-to-day communication with my husband. I use it as shorthand to describe how I’m doing, and my husband uses it with me to help me manage my efforts every day.
Want to transform your communication with your significant other? Try using these five tips, and see if and how your communication — and even your relationship — may improve.
The more aware you are of your own spoons, and how many spoons you have left, the better you can communicate with your partner how you’re doing and how much energy and strength you might have left for the day.
My husband and I might be at a party, and I can quickly tell him it’s time to leave with a simple whisper, “I’m out of spoons.” He knows to make our excuses and head for the door. It makes for easy communication shorthand.
Just asking how many spoons you have left before starting anything can make all the difference in the world.
Even a joint task, or deciding what you’re having for dinner or where you’re going on a date uses spoons we often forget to count. For instance, you want your partner to know if you have enough spoons to chill before assuming Netflix means both Netflix and chill.
Use a calendar or an app to learn how often you get a resurgence of spoons. Maybe it’s on Sunday evenings because you were able to sleep in on the weekend. So, maybe Sunday is a good night to plan on being intimate if you find you don’t usually have enough spoons during the week.
Tracking your spoons can help both you and your partner plan your week. If your significant other knows you’re typically low on spoons after that big meeting you always have on Thursdays, then they can assume responsibility for the bulk of the tasks Thursday evening, allowing you to rest and preserve what’s left of your spoons for Friday.
Even though I have chronic pain and fatigue, I am strong. I know my own strength, but often am unaware of my limitations.
I remember a time when I moved a heavy dresser out of the way while my husband was vacuuming. He immediately asked me how many spoons moving the dresser used and if I thought it was worth it. He was able to see that my use of spoons to move the dresser was a waste, and was able to point that out so that next time I can make a better decision in the moment.
This understanding and accountability from my partner keeps me from doing too much and potentially hurting myself (not because I’m not strong enough to do the thing, but because my body just shouldn’t do the thing anymore).
Communication is a two-way street.
Yes, your partner should ask you about your spoon level before assuming you can do an activity. Yes, your partner should remind you of your spoon level before you go full force into an activity that maybe you shouldn’t go full force into. But they are your spoons and it’s your responsibility to communicate to your partner what you need from them and when you need it.
Used some extra spoons today and just can’t bring yourself to cook dinner? Tell your partner. Ask them to step up and help you when you can’t help yourself.
We spoonies have so much going on. Make sure you’re checking in on your partner’s needs as well, so your partner doesn’t feel forgotten or they don’t take time to take care of themselves. They have spoons too, and when they are sick or tired, their spoon availability can decrease too!
Your partner is a really important relationship, and helping them feel valued, seen, and appreciated goes a long way to ensuring your needs also get met.
The spoon theory can be used as a communication tool within your relationship daily, and not just something we pull out when we introduce a new group member to what being a “spoonie” really means.
Try using these six tips, and see if and how your communication — and even your relationship — may improve.
Medically reviewed on February 13, 2023
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