Being diagnosed with a long term illness is without a doubt one of the toughest things life can dish out. There are many aspects that make such a situation extremely painful—aside from any physical discomfort. There is the mater of how one’s children will take the news, and furthermore cope with the possibility that the illness will not get better, but progress throughout time. There is the issue of how one will continue to work, and if that is no longer an option how finances will be addressed— an even greater dilemma if the diagnosed individual has been supporting a family. Then there is the burden placed on one’s partner. Of course it is an unintentional burden. I’m not speaking about the added responsibility of taking care of a sick loved one, rather the overwhelming emotional stress an individual deals with when coming face to face with a terrifying disease and the idea of losing his/her partner.
Even the strongest relationships can falter under the stress that comes with handling an illness. Such a strain can end up pushing spouses to their breaking point. Statistics show that over 75% of marriages in which a chronic illness is present end in divorce. Studies also reveal that marriages in which one partner has a chronic illness are more likely to fail if the spouses are young. In addition, those who are primary caregivers to their ill partner are 6 times more likely to be depressed than those who are ill and do not need caregivers. However, the situation is absolutely not hopeless. Though it is a common feeling, if you are in the middle of a situation like this, don’t feel helpless. Here are some ways to handle the strain on your relationship, created by a chronic illness.
All relationships suffer with a lack of communication, but even more so for couples dealing with very serious maters. Talk to your partner about the challenges. Clinical psychologist Rosalind Kalb says, “This is the first step toward effective problem solving and the feelings of closeness that come from good teamwork.”
- Become Educated
Illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis are often unpredictable, only adding more stress on couples. To best deal with anxiety, you and your partner can learn more about the disease and discover all of the treatments, tools, and other resources available to help.
- Go to counseling together
A setting in which you can both get all of your feelings, worries, and frustration out in the open is exceedingly beneficial. You and your partner can leave with a new understanding of one another and the overwhelming situation, and an even closer bond after each session. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be especially effective in matters of chronic illness, Kalb reports.
- Caregivers: monitor your own health!
Becoming burnt out is a major risk, so know the warning signs. Withdrawal from friends, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, and wanting to hurt yourself, are symptoms of declining mental health you could experience when responsible for a partner with a degenerative health status.
- Value each other like never before
Jonathan Mosher’s wife Mimi has Multiple Sclerosis. He says, “We’re together all the time. We’ve kind of morphed into one being.” Mimi adds, “Do something kind for your spouse every day.“ As this couple has done, you can take a bad situation and become stronger as a result of it.
There are plenty of resources one can delve into when trying to successfully navigate a relationship— keep it strong and healthy—throughout an ever present illness. With nearly half of Americans living daily with a companion who possesses a chronic illness, know that you are most definitely not alone.
Organizations like Joni and Friends and Dave Dravecky’s Endurance offer tools of guidance. By following this link http://www.endurance.org/find-resources/ you can access Provision Packages—a collection of books that contain messages of hope—Words of Endurance—weekly emails of encouragement—and Journey Stories via video, featuring inspiring testimonies from people who have weathered chronic illness and maintained a healthy relationship with their significant other.
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AUTHOR: Jada Jackson, MS, LMHC – Communicator, Coach & Licensed Mental Health Counselor working with couples, teens, young adults and women empowerment issues in Orlando and East Orlando Florida! Jada Jackson can be reached at (407) 248-0030.
Author: Emily Simpson (Intern: University of Central Florida)