In Sickness and in Health: Chronic Health Conditions and RelationshipsAuthor: Diplomat Pharmacy Date: February 03, 2020
When one partner in a relationship is diagnosed with a chronic health condition, both people’s lives change. Now they’re not only partners, they’re also a patient and a caregiver — a role neither person would have wanted.
If you’re in this situation, there are ways to cope individually but also as a team with your partner. Together, you can build a new kind of normal for your relationship.
Patients: Don’t Be Afraid to Share
- Be clear about your needs. Chronic health conditions can cause problems that aren’t always visible. You might feel fine one day and miserable the next. Don’t assume your partner knows what you’re going through — keep them up to date on how you’re feeling and what kind of help you need. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness, and being able to help keeps the caregiver from feeling helpless.
- Be vulnerable. Your condition may limit what you can do in your daily life. You might think you have to “stay brave” for your partner even though you feel depressed and scared. Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t do all the things you used to, and how that makes you feel.
- Manage anxiety with action. Chronic health conditions often cause unpredictable day-to-day changes, and this can cause a lot of worry. Researching your condition and speaking with medical professionals can help you to feel more in control. You can also consider counseling, either by yourself or with your partner.
Caregivers: Care for Yourself, Too
- Don’t try to do it all. Your love for your partner might drive you to set unrealistically high expectations for your caregiving. You can’t take care of every problem, and you can’t necessarily make your partner feel better about their condition. It’s okay if you don’t do everything right — or even if you sometimes resent your new role. Be honest about your feelings with your partner.
- Take time for yourself. You might feel like you’re neglecting your duties if you spend time away from your partner. But blocking out some time to do the things you enjoy is important to recharge mentally — and to protect your physical health, which can get worn down from the stresses of caregiving.
- Find a confidant. Don’t be shy about sharing that you’ve become a caregiver. In particular, try to find a trusted person with whom you can share the stresses of your new role.
Together: Share Your Feelings — and Your Future
- Be honest about your feelings — and discuss them together. Both of you might grieve the loss of your former relationship and feel too guilty to discuss that grief — the caregiver because their partner has to deal with the stresses of their health condition, and the patient because they see how hard their partner is working to help out. But discussing these feelings makes them part of the fabric of the relationship and helps both people cope.
- Get help with financial planning. Medications and medical supplies for a chronic health condition are often expensive, and one or both partners might be temporarily or permanently unable to work. A financial planner can help you manage through uncertain financial times.
- Learn how to fight fair. The stress of chronic health conditions — for the patient and the caregiver — can wear you both down and shorten your tempers. If an argument does break out, try to use “I” statements. That is, don’t attack your partner (“You never tell me what you need!”), but focus on how you feel (“I feel anxious when I think you might need more than you’re asking for”).
- Redefine your relationship. With time, effort, and honest communication, the changes in your lives can become an opportunity to build a new life together that is also fulfilling. Try not to focus on how things used to be — instead, find new routines and rituals that help you appreciate each other.
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