It can be heartbreaking to watch a partner battle through a chronic illness or disability, often feeling helpless and unsure how to deal with the situation. The situation can be overwhelming as caregivers struggle to cope with their own emotions while at the same time trying to help the person they love. It is important to remember that whether it is special equipment, doctor’s visits or lifestyle adjustments, there is deep strength found in facing such a challenge together. Here are five ways to bridge the gap between caretaker and care recipient.
First, honor each other’s needs. Acknowledge that the burden is unequal—the caregiver carries more weight than their partner whose condition is at the center of their lives. Each need to have time and space for activities that nourish them, such as time away from each other, a night out with friends or a quiet day at home without being needed for something ‘extra'. This allows both partners to reset.
Second, listen openly. In times when it's difficult to bridge the divide between physical and emotional energy, what is shared verbally is extremely important. Ask your partner open-ended questions to demonstrate that you understand how they are feeling. Make sure to give support, rather than asking too much.
Third, find ways to relax together. Depending on your partner’s abilities, activities such as going for a walk, creating art, playing low-energy board games, listening to music, taking a yoga class together or simply curling up on the couch and watching a movie can provide a few moments of comfort and peace.
Fourth, establish good communication skills. Use humor to lighten difficult moments, tact when tackling sensitive topics, and trustworthiness when confiding in one another. Learn the art of assertive communication, which allows both partners to express their thoughts and ideas without needing to escalate their frustration or defensiveness.
Develop a support system for both of you. Reach out to your family and friends for assistance or join a support group that can provide insight and understanding. Mentally taking a break from the challenges of chronic illness or disability can bring respite from all of the stress.
Caring for a partner who is coping with a chronic illness or disability can seem daunting. However, by recognizing your challenges, committing to communication, finding activities to enjoy, discovering resources to use and connecting with your personal support system, you both will benefit from the secret strength of resiliency.
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