When Your Relationship Is Affected By Illness

In the first days of a heady love affair, most of us (if we give it a moment’s thought) feel that we’ll be able to cope with anything, whatever happens. Turns out that the reality can be very different, however good our intentions.

This isn’t about Covid in particular but more about the different ways that people respond to illness – for women particularly, there is a feeling, and sometimes an expectation, that if an illness is long-term, they should be the main carers and our society often reinforces this.

However, whatever the expectations in your own family, when faced with a terminal or long-term diagnosis of a partner or family member, whether that’s an adult or a child, people’s coping strategies often cause friction. In particular, the main carer can feel misunderstood by other family members or their partner and frustrated when others put an optimistic spin on the situation.

Keeping hopeful helps some people cope better, but for others it’s unrealistic and they prefer to be completely realistic and deal with the probable prognosis in their own way. Carers who are faced with a relative’s deteriorating health on a daily basis can feel frustrated when those who aren’t involved on a daily basis insist on putting a positive spin on the situation.

In the case of a very sick child, it’s not at all unusual for the worry to cause problems between the parents and they are less available to one another and probably less patient than they might usually be under different circumstances. In addition, one parent might be trying to deal with life on a day-to-day basis and attend to medical appointments, give medication and cook special meals whilst the other one might use their energies to research case-studies, alternative treatments and possible cures. If one, or both of them, are very tired, which is likely, understanding and patience aren’t going to be in abundance.

If a child is born with or develops a long-term condition, parents can feel that the demands upon them have no end and find it extremely difficult to cope. The questions they might want to ask are:

  • “Is it worth getting another medical opinion?”
  • “Is there a better medical regime for my child?”
  • “Could I be doing more?”

The same questions also apply if you are caring for an elderly parent, a sibling or other family member – most people want to do their best for the sick person but almost inevitably, it brings concerns and sadness, exacerbated by the tiredness involved in caring.

However, some families can and do thrive during difficult times, whether this is about caring for a child or an elderly parent with a chronic illness. It can actually bring people closer together as they find that they have to communicate more openly and this can provide them with a feeling of mission, pride and cohesiveness.

One important part of all this is that you alone cannot solve all the family problems associated with your child’s/family member’s illness and it’s crucial that you don’t isolate yourself. However caring you are, you will need time to yourself to relax, wind down and socialise.

There are social workers, family therapists and support groups who will hopefully be able to provide advice and, despite funding cuts, possibly put in some professional care at certain times. Social networks are forums are invaluable too as you can message people in the same situation. Although this can help you feel less alone, beware of not going down the road of getting into miracle ‘cures’ or negativity about the prognosis as neither of these is likely to help you in the long-term.

Try to access support from your extended family – don’t carry on and tell them that you’re “fine” as you’re not probably not. However, if they’re not told this, they often won’t know. Being open and clear is the most honest way to progress here – most people will help you if they know that you need support at times. Friends are also invaluable at such a time and you can ‘let rip’ about the situation when it becomes too much at times.

In my next blog I’ll look specifically at situations where it’s your partner who is ill and the effects it can have on your relationship, however happy you are together.

You can read my blogs as soon as they are published (usually on Wednesdays) by pressing the ‘follow’ button and you can share them with your friends. You can also find me on Linked In, Instagram (samebutdifferent) and read my FB posts at Same But Different.

#anxiety #familyrelationships #stress #self-esteem #workonyourself

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