Chronic illness or a traumatic event can happen to any married couple. One of you will get sick. The other one becomes the caregiver. This is a very hard situation, but it is a reality that it can happen. Here are a few coping strategies to help you cope and help your marriage through this difficult time.
Make the best of the situation. Changes are a big thing. Whether they are changes in personality due to a traumatic brain injury, progression of Alzheimer’s/ dementia or physical changes due to a stroke, you have to take it day by day and make the best of the present.
Help your partner- and others- understand new limits. You may be learning your partner’s new limitations due to a condition or disease. Other people who you do not often come in contact with may not realize these limitations. Don’t expect more than either of you can give. Help your partner understand and adapt to their new world. Continually educate others.
Create a balance between love and independence. If this condition is a new or abrupt one, then remember this is a big change for you both. Let your spouse know you are there for them and show them love like never before. Don’t jump in and take their independence away. One quick way to break someone’s spirit is to make them feel as though they are inadequate or not enough.
Seek other champions to support you and your spouse. Your spouse loves and appreciates all you do for them, but it will bring joy to have more supporters. Have the children and grandchildren visit. Do they have a favorite home health or hospice worker that they love to speak to? Know that you can’t always do everything yourself. Accept things you can’t do, things you do not want to do, and make decisions on who will do those tasks.
Express frustration in your mind, but not your mouth. If you can, hold your frustrations in or vent elsewhere. Your spouse did not choose this condition or disease. They never wanted to be a burden to you. Don’t ever let them feel like it is their fault or that they are a hindrance. We are humans with true feelings and words cannot be returned.
Find support. Reach out for help. You may be living in a new world with your spouse’s new or progressing condition. While you may be the 24 hour a day, 7 days a week caregiver, find support to give you relief. Trying to cope alone can tear your marriage apart. Help can be found through family or community resources. Find someone who can allow you to step away and enjoy “me” time. Even if it is only a walk around the block, it is a time to clear the mind. Find support with someone who can listen to your struggles. Sometimes just letting out frustrations is a big relief. Remember, people may not know you need help or support if you do not ask.
Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Don’t put your own health issues on the back burner because your spouse is ill. You need to be your best for you and for your spouse. It may help to think of your new journey as a spiritual journey.
Let go of the past. You have to let go of the past. This is a new world for you both and it is the present. Things in life continually change and as human beings we will must adjust and move on.
Find release in your other roles. Changing health issues and constant care giving can put a strain on a relationship. You must find ways to cope and find fulfillment. Take on a hobby. Hire a sitter for an hour or two for your spouse and join a local senior center to spend time with friends or a game of bingo. You can’t give your all to someone if you are exhausted and have built up resentment. You have to find outlets to keep yourself healthy and sane. Pursue things that renew you.
Talk with each other. If you can, talk with each other about new roles, responsibilities, fears, frustrations, hopes, and expectations. Don’t assume you know how your spouse feels in every situation. Changing, growing, and learning together is what can truly build a marriage.
An illness or condition can present many challenges for your life and marriage, but keep in mind they have the potential to greatly change your marriage. They can either bring you closer together or tear you apart. You both have the choice of how to face each situation. Flexibility and communication is a key factor in maintaining the closeness of your marriage. Never be afraid to seek help. There are many available options out there. If you have any questions about community outlets, please feel free to call us and we can direct you to the appropriate person.