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Caring For A Partner With A Chronic Illness
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2008

You vowed to stay together in sickness and in health. But, in fact, you did not really think that you would REALLY be in the position, at this point of your life, to be caring for your significant other who is managing a chronic illness. Much of your pattern and rhythm as a couple will be reflected in the way you deal with each other and this particular health challenge. Think of the way you want to be married and the roles you are willing and able to take on, and those you aren't, in order to save your sanity, your respective dignities, and your marriage by caring for your partner with heartfelt compassion, kindness and humor.

First and foremost, be an adult. You may be asking, "why me" and feel disappointed, angry, tired, or restless. It is normal to feel this way. Try to maintain self-control and respect instead of taking out your frustrations on your partner. It is imperative to take care of yourself, eat healthfully, exercise, and stay connected to your friends. Seek a support group for other couples who are experiencing similar issues with this illness or find a couples' therapist if either of you blame the other or you are both having difficulty adjusting.

It is also important to find appropriate roles. Do your research; find out what is needed and what your role will be in helping your spouse to deal with this medical condition and change in your life. Do you have to get a job? Will care need to be provided while you are out of the house? Who is in charge of making dietary decisions? If your spouse is able to take responsibility for a medication regime, exercise program, or doing projects that retain his or her role in the family, marriage and community, make sure that happens.

Additionally, become a support player. Depending on the condition and the restrictions, at all costs, maintain dignity and respect for your partner. Discuss what works and what doesn't. Be aware of some shifts in your roles, even if you assume more significant care giving. You are not to become your spouse's parent. You are a supporting player.

Finally, participate in couple things. Do as many things together as a couple that permit you to be conscious of the illness but do not totally focus on it. If your spouse tires easily at the end of the day and evenings out are no longer viable, meet friends on a weekend afternoon for a movie or lunch. If you are music buffs, attend uncrowded concert rehearsals (often open to the public in the mornings or afternoons). Your life will change. It does not need to stop.

Remember, although your partner is living with a chronic illness, there are ways to preserve and deepen your bond and find unique ways to "marry" your new roles with the challenges you both face.

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