No one plans to encounter illness. It’s very common for the healthiest relationships to ebb and flow with the highs and lows of life.
But for some couples, getting struck with a sudden and unexpected illness results in challenges you simply can’t prepare for, and it can leave both partners feeling powerless and resentful taking a toll on your connection.
While the ailing partner experiences effects of illness in acute and obvious ways, it’s often the care-giving and supportive other half who suffers silently, selflessly keeping the medication schedule, driving to doctor’s appointments, cleaning up and keeping the household running. If you are in a partnership with someone who is unwell, your well-being cannot be ignored or shelved. Sustaining your own mental and physical health is paramount to surviving the challenges together. Here are some tips to weathering the storm until the rocky seas subside.
Build a Support Group, Ask For Help
You would be surprised by the number of loved ones who want to help in times of illness, but who don’t know how to. Short of stopping by unannounced, coming to stay for an inconvenient length of time or sending a well-meaning card, our friends and family need to know what you need from them. Our parents, siblings, church friends and high school pals will all become a part of your village, but you have to invite them in.
Once you have an idea of the type of care your partner will need, assign one person particularly close to you to spearhead the helping-hand network. Sit together and make a detailed list of the day-to-day tasks that will become overwhelming for you, as well as the bigger picture responsibilities. Create a meal train with healthy dishes that are easily freezable so you don’t have to think about cooking. Ask for a fund to be established for a house-keeper to come by periodically to dust, mop or wash the windows. Ask someone to take on some laundry once a week. Be specific with your needs, making it easy for your network to support you in a meaningful way.
You have certainly heard the phrase “put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” When it comes to caring for others, your tank has to be full if you’re going to be of any use. Give yourself daily or weekly breaks, even to just take a walk, go to the mall, see a movie, get a massage or manicure. Any little thing that removes you from the environment that reminds you that you’re human and that life is still marching forward.
Set Aside Time to Talk Logistics
Talks about doctor’s appointments, health care coverage, finances and medical bills are some of the most difficult conversations to have even in the best of health. If you can set aside a time every week to go over these stressful details, they won’t bleed into the other areas of your daily life. Try not to bring up an unexpected rejection of coverage letter outside of this specific meeting time, and you’ll find it much easier to be loving and feel normal with each other.
We don’t think about support groups and specialist coverage when we’re healthy, but there are vital resources available—often for free—for both patients and caregivers. Call your insurance company or discuss with your doctor so that you’re getting the most out of everything available to you. (See a list of support groups at the end of this article.)
In the age of social media, it’s also worth looking for online support groups to connect with others who can lift you up when you need it and share any tips they may have. Often those who have been there before are the most generous when you need it.
When we’re mired down in the daily routine of caring for the sick, it’s hard to remember when things were easy. Thinking back to the early dating days, your wedding and all the reasons you fell in love in the first place can help to relieve resentment and stress.
Find creative ways to remind each other of your love. Leave notes for each other, make a photobook of your favorite memories or recreate an in-home movie night to watch one of your favorites.
Short of planning a vow renewal ceremony, you could host a small gathering of your intimate friends and family and have a romantic exchange of new vows, maybe finding humor in the “sickness you didn’t plan for” when you promised to love each other through thick-and-thin. Since light-hearted moments can be hard to find in the slog of sickness, enlist your loved ones to help create them.
Develop a Spiritual Practice
Whether you’re a lapsed Catholic or an occasional yoga practitioner, now is the time to double-down on whatever you believe in and turn to that faith to elevate your life condition. Attending church services or finding 10-15 minutes to meditate each day can go a long way towards sustaining your spirit. Becoming involved in a spiritual group is a wonderful way to build community and find support.
Here are some resources for support: