Posted in after the diagnosis, care for the caregiver, Caregiving, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Duet

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!!

I’m going to take things from a different angle today because as you’ve found out nothing about illness stands alone.  Today is my 10th anniversary and to celebrate I want to share with you how illness and caregiving within love relationships can get derailed and how to make sure everyone stays on track.  First remember that you, the caregiver, are a co-patient.  Everything that the patient experiences gets translated into some force that impacts your life as well.  In yesterday’s entry I wrote about endurance and as a caregiver, you too need to build your level of endurance.

The three things most couples struggle over are: Communication, Sex and Finances.  It’s a universal so don’t feel bad if you’re struggling with any of these, you’ve got plenty of company.  The question is not do you struggle with these issues, but how will you resolve these issue.  I’m going to talk about three areas that couples facing a health challenge need to consider to keep moving forward with their relationship.

Communication is obviously the biggest factor that comes in to play between couples that aren’t facing a health challenge so can you imagine how that gets amplified when you throw an illness in the mix.  The stress level is not increased arithmetically, it’s increased exponentially.  Fear is at the heart of the communication breakdown.  The patient is afraid if they voice their concerns the caregiver will leave.  The caregiver fears that being honest will kill the patient (both literally and figuratively).  So let’s be honest, things will be said that aren’t pretty or nice.  The question is are they true.  I was writing a paper for school and I found this quote in a book about healing trauma, “Intimacy comes with honesty, not from ‘making nice’.  I’m not suggesting that you kick someone when they’re down, but clearing the air is what keeps relationships alive and well.

Communication breaks down when one or both members of the couple bury their fears, even though both of you are well aware that they exist.  For instance from the patient’s side they may be wondering : Will I be a burden to my partner?  Will I be able to provide for my family?  The caregiver may be thinking: “I don’t know if I’m strong enough for this?  or “This isn’t what I signed up for!  Both are wondering how will you ever get out from under all the medical bills.  Pretending these thoughts don’t exist is ridiculous…the question is how do you deal with them.

You can obtain the services of someone who will provide a safe environment to explore these avenues together, whether it be a psychotherapist, coach, or spiritual director doens’t matter.  It should be someone you trust, and who understands these particular issues.  You may choose not to do the exchange verbally, but do it in the form of journaling.  Rose Offner has a book Journal to Intimacy.  The book is divided into sections relating to the relationship and it allows each person to write their thoughts in the journal.  Each person then reads the response and can write a response of their own.  This will only work if you both commit to being a part of that journey.

Intimacy is also a big issue in relationships.  Let’s say it out loud…S-E-X.  Yes that’s right, couples have sex but during times of illness that may not be a part of the picture.  Don’t confuse love with sex and don’t confuse intimacy with sex.  Intimacy is about the bond between two people.  It’s about being able to share hopes and dreams and fears.  It’s about being to feel free to share difficult things with your partner and know that how you are viewed by them won’t change.  I know it’s scary, but it can be done and it is important to maintaining the relationship.  Intimacy is about connection so find ways to connect.  Instead of sex, maybe it’s about rubbing your partner’s feet (not me I don’t let anyone touch my feet).  Maybe it’s about making the other person breakfast in bed.  Remember that means the person with the illness can make the caregiver breakfast in bed ( we know the person with the illness unless they are in the last stages of illness will have good days and they can offer these loving gestures to their partner).

Let’s see we’ve talked about communication and sex…anyone up for politics or religion? (just kidding)  You will each gain strength from the other.  Caregiving should not be about obligation, but love and compassion.  Love and compassion should also be returned from the person you’re supporting…don’t let things get so out of balance that you feel you have nothing left to give.  So I guess “Balance” is the third side of the triangle.  If things get to out of balance bringing it back into balance can be more painful then some treatments.  Become intimate with your emotions.  Know when you’re feeling out of balance and share that with your partner.

Communication, Intimacy and Balance are three key aspects of maintaining a healthy and loving relationship through a health challenge.  From personal experience I can tell you that opening up about your fears is not easy, but it makes the relationship stronger.  It helps you build a foundation of trust and mutual respect.  Look out for each other’s health and know that I’ll say a prayer for you and your relationship in honor of my anniversary.  Thanks for sharing this special day with me.

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