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When Your Partner is Ill: 4 Things to Remember

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistNovember 11, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Many people don’t give much thought to their health — until a serious medical problem comes up. Then their hours, days, and lives can center on it. If your partner is seriously or chronically ill, you will certainly feel the strain of this.

The following 4 tips may be helpful:

1. Attend to the shifting dynamics in your relationship. You may find that you become more of a caregiver, or a friend, than a romantic partner. Or you might take on a role previously belonging to your partner (such grocery shopping and preparing meals, or attending to finances).

Consider whether these new roles are helpful and healthy for you and your partner. It’s important to do an ongoing re-evaluation. Choose to change the dynamics as necessary. For example, the extra help your husband needs for a short time might disempower him if you continue to do it after he is able to care better for himself. Once you realize this, you might expect him to do more on his own, such as making his own doctor appointments or expecting him to return to doing his regular chores.

2. Offer help specific to your new role(s). In order to really help your partner, you need to identify what roles your partner is looking for you to fill (or needs you to fill). Some common roles are:

  • Emotional support: You can be a good listener, empathize with their struggles, and encourage them to find positive ways to cope.
  • Social and/or health support: Sometimes people who are ill get so involved with their health that they lose sight of the fun things life has to offer. Encourage your partner to stay involved with the things they enjoy and remain connected with friends. They might also find it helpful if you help them keep up with medical recommendations, such as regular and appropriate exercise, diet, and taking medication as prescribed.
  • Medical appointment aid: Your partner might find it stress-relieving for you to take them to their medical appointments and join them when talking with their physician. You might also take notes to help you both remember what was said.
  • Medical system negotiator: One very difficult part of getting sick is negotiating the medical system, both with doctors and health insurance companies. If you can take some of this burden off of your partner, they can focus more on getting well. If you are unsure of what to do next, your doctor’s office or hospital may be able to provide you with guidance – such as through their billing office, a nurse, or a social worker on staff.

3. Keep your relationship as balanced as possible. While you may not want to burden your partner with the details of your days or your struggles, it is important to let your partner be there for you. This will help to keep you emotionally close and will give your partner an important purpose other than the role of a sick person.

4. Take care of yourself. Do what you can to nourish yourself with a healthy diet, time with friends, and activities you enjoy. This will give you the strength to be there for your partner.

When you do all you can to be there for your partner and yourself, your relationship is much more likely to thrive and maybe even strengthen as you travel this difficult path.

Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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