In Sickness and In Health: How to Cope With A Sick Partner
When you get married, you might write your own vows or you might stick with something that’s tried and true. Either way, you are pledging yourself, your love, and your support to another human being through all of life’s tricky circumstances. But what happens when things go awry and life throws your relationship a curve ball? How do you cope and start dealing with chronic illness in marriage?
What Does Facing Illness or Injury Do To Your Relationship?
There are different illnesses and injuries that can occur. Dealing with a broken arm is far different than dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Either way, however, even the slightest incapacitation of a partner can change the dynamic of your relationship significantly.
All of a sudden, the daily roles to which you have become accustomed to change and things between you and your partner change as well. You become either a caretaker or the one being cared for. Either way, this can alter your connection with or perception of your partner.
Romance often takes a backseat as you and your partner adjust to your new roles. This change, along with the altered responsibilities, often causes problems for the relationship and each partner individually.
The change in a relationship when dealing with chronic illness in marriage may also lead to emotional issues. Depression is not uncommon and it can affect the both of you.
If you think that you or your partner is depressed, there are resources you can reach out for help. This is critical when the effects become long-term.
Unfortunately, these hurdles can be difficult to jump and can lead to bigger challenges than just romantic issues. The divorce rate among couples, especially younger couples, where one partner faces health issues is much higher than that of the general population.
Dealing with Chronic Illness in Marriage
So, what can you do to protect your relationship and keep it healthy, even if one of you is not?
• Communicate. Each of you is going through something difficult and unique. You need to talk about it. Understanding your partner’s point of view is crucial. When you are wrapped up in the changes you are facing, it becomes easy to forget how those changes are affecting your partner. Discussing how you each feel can create empathy and respect for the other’s circumstance. Neither is easy. And although you are each facing tough times individually, you can actually support each other and go through them together as well.
• Seek support. Friends and family are particularly important in times like this. This is true for both of you. Stress during such time can be a lot to handle and people that care for you can provide perspective and relief. And no, you are not likely to be imposing or taking advantage by leaning on them a bit. If they are people that care about you, they will most likely be happy to be there for you. Even just a conversation to get your mind off things can help.
• Remember the love. Yes, things are different and they are likely difficult. However, you fell in love and made a life together for a reason. Remind yourself of this. Pledging your life to another person really is for better and worse, in health and in sickness. You have to hold onto the good times to get through the bad. Remind your partner of these things, too. Each of you is likely to get bogged down in the current circumstances and forget to look at the big picture.
Regardless of the seriousness of the health issues – whether they’re temporary (hopefully) or permanent (worst case) – your relationship can survive. Certainly, the severity of the problem will impact the difficulty of keeping things together, but it can be done.
Remember that you’re not alone. Not only do you have each other but you also have resources in the form of your family and friends. Of course, there are also your trusted healthcare professionals to take care of you and your spouse during the tough times. They can help you get through things. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.