Partner and family distress is to be expected when there is a serious illness. Recognizing the disruption and stress in your life is an important first step to taking meaningful action. It is essential to recognize that we all have limits, even machines break down occasionally.
When partners are able to get the help and information they need, the patient benefits by feeling the commitment and love that only a partner can provide.
What Do I Need to Know about Self-care When I Am Caring for My Loved One?
Most people have concerns about having to depend on others when they are confronted with a serious illness. It may be hard to ask for or accept help. After all, you are used to taking care of yourself and perhaps others. Maybe you think that asking for help is a sign of weakness or will be a burden on others. Perhaps you do not want to let others know that some things are hard for you to do. All of these feelings are normal.
When caregivers and people with cancer seek and receive help from others, they often find it easier to cope with their illness. When you accept help from your loved ones, you are allowing them to feel connected to you during a time when they need to express how much they care about you.
Your loved ones may not know how to best support you and may say, “Let me know how I can help." This is a great opportunity to tell them in specific ways how they can help. People want to help those they love. It is important for you and it is important for them to allow this to happen. In accepting help, you will also role model that it is OK to ask for help when dealing with challenging times. This is an important lesson that you can give to them.
Meet with an expert
Meet with an expert such as a psychologist or social worker. They will listen to your concerns and assist you setting up a plan. Sometimes, just talking to a neutral party helps couples put things into perspective and opens up a dialogue. Psychologists and social workers have an arsenal of tools and skills to help people communicate better and become stronger as partners.
Be a stronger partner
Recognize the signs of stress
- Not sleeping enough or poor quality of sleep
- Tired (much of the time)
- Take care of your physical health: Make time for physical activity, eat healthy foods and get enough sleep.
- Find support: Talk with a professional and leverage your social networks. This is the time to let friends and family know that you need support as well. Contact the organizations you belong to — religious, social, or others — and let them know to check on you, too!
- Make time for yourself and your friends: Having some time away and taking care of your own emotional and physical needs will allow you to best support your partner.
- Schedule time for your self-care: What recharges your soul, spirit, mind and body? Schedule time for taking care of your needs. You need to be healthy and happy to support your loved one.
Talk openly and honestly with your loved ones about maximizing your independence:
- Have an open and honest conversation about you and your loved ones’ limitations — physical, emotional and/or financial.
- Let people know what you are comfortable talking about.
- Talk with your partner about what you are willing to let others do for both of you.
- Identify those things that only you will do to care for your partner.
Be receptive to help
When someone asks, “Is there anything I can do?” say “Yes!” Then give them a specific task or ideas, for example:
- Cook dinner next Wednesday.
- Pick up the kids from school on Friday.
- Clean my house.
- Mow the lawn.
- Drive me to my doctor appointments.
- Come over for tea.
- Tell me a great joke.
- Help me understand my medical bills.
What If I Am Feeling Distant From My Partner?
Relationships may suffer when we are under stress. Dealing with the demands of illness, busy schedules and financial pressures causes people to have less time and energy to communicate effectively and support each other.
Fear, anger, emotional distancing and blame are common and unhelpful. However, despite serious illness, many couples grow closer and feel connected in ways that they never thought possible. In fact, feeling distant from your partner can be a signal that the relationship needs some healing and attention.
You now have the opportunity to practice open and honest communication to develop the relationship you always wanted and would be proud to have from this moment forward.
Be honest. Share how you feel with your partner. Use words that will help bring you closer to each other. You can start feeling connected again by:
- Talking with your partner about how you want the relationship to be closer
- Identifying problems that you can both manage together
- Scheduling time for enjoyable activities (even 15 to 30 minutes at a time)
- Talking about things you have done together in the past that are memorable
Considering meeting with a professional to get you started