I have worked with many caregivers and one of the toughest emotional challenges that a couple experiences is the effect that a chronic illness has on that relationship. Many couples over time have developed what I call their relationship dance and when chronic illness hits it imposes a new set of rules for relationships. It’s important that as couples move through the care giving experience that their relationship doesn’t just survive but that it also thrives.

They need to be aware of the challenges that they could face and the steps they can take to adjust so they are able to experience a positive relationship.

Some of the common challenges that the caregiver relationship may experience:

  • Increase in stress due to the uncertainty of the future and a loss of control.
  • A shift in the relationship balance. The caregiver is taking on more responsibilities and as time goes on those responsibilities will increase.
  • There may be a decline in the physical health of the caregiver and/or the spouse.
  • Potential loss of support systems such as friends and family.
  • Communication difficulties.

Steps that the couple can utilize to offset the challenges that they may experience:

  • It’s important that both express what they need such as help dressing, time alone, etc. Clear communication is vital to a healthy relationship.
  • Couples need to work through the grief and emotions. Sometimes individuals are uncomfortable discussing emotions and grief but not talking about it can create a distance and decrease intimacy in a relationship. If individuals are unable to get through this on their own there are community resources that can help a couple or individual work through these emotions.
  • Being knowledgeable about the disease allows more confidence in the challenges that are faced and gives the couple a degree of control over the future. It also enables caregivers to have a better understanding of what their spouse may be going through.
  • It is going to be crucial to reach out to others for support. The support may be family, friends, organizations or support groups.
  • Make a list of things that have brought you joy in the past such as a favorite movie, walk on the beach or reading a good book then make a conscious effort to schedule some of these things into the week.

There will be good days and bad days. By becoming aware of the steps that can be taken to address the challenges that chronic illness has on a relationship, your relationship can thrive.

Phyllis Balliett, BSW
Nazamaze Advisor