An ailing husband or a wife, can be incredibly stressful for anyone and can take a toll on the love that keeps a relationship alive. Recently, Michael Douglas and Catherine-Zeta Jones underwent a trial separation to evaluate whether they really needed to be committed to each other.
The reason? Michael Douglas’ long battle with throat cancer coupled with Catherine Zeta Jones bipolarity took a heavy strain on their relationship.(Read: Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones split: Will a trial separation help?)
Closer home and away from the spotlight, Tina D’Cruz had recently tied the knot with her long-time boyfriend Shekhar Krishnan, and was looking forward to a blissful life with him, but things took a dramatic turn on her wedding night when she got a severe asthma attack. She says, ‘Bridal nerves and the exhaustion of the entire day took a toll on me. I knew I was tired and not feeling too well, but I ignored it and put it down to stress and being on my feet the whole day. However, things took an ugly turn when I got an asthma attack and had to be hospitalised. Though Shekhar was aware of my condition it was the first time he had seen me in such a bad state and was at sea at how to deal with it. Luckily, my parents were there and they helped him through it. When we vow to accept each other in sickness and in health, we do not always realise what will be expected of us when a situation like this comes up, and no matter what you know, you are never really prepared for what is to come.’
Tina says over the years I have seen many couples deal with different illnesses from type 2 diabetes, to breast cancer to kidney problems. Couples are not always prepared to handle the situations and while some are able to survive the health storm for others it just goes downhill if they don’t have a coping mechanism in place.
When a partner’s health condition rocks your marriage
Psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria, adds, ‘It can be very difficult to cope when your partner falls seriously ill or is grappling with a life-threatening disease. Apart from the patient, the caregiver also goes through mental, emotional and physical distress. It is very essential to provide support mechanisms but in doing so one should take care of themselves as well. Caregivers have to balance a lot of issues such as financial, personal, household chores, coordinating with doctors and paramedical staff. At times, the caregiver has to deal with feelings of guilt of living happy fulfilling lives because they see their spouse in pain. If the person, is in a negative mind frame, the caregiver bears the brunt of the aggression and disappointments of the same. Often, the partner tends to draw all the attention and the caregiver is neglected. It becomes easy to sympathise with the family or partner but very difficult to empathise and put oneself in their position.’
Clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany, adds, ‘I have seen many cases where one of the partner falls very ill, and the other has to cope with the pressure of the unprecedented event. It becomes a traumatic event for both. Currently, I am dealing with a case where a 42-year-old man is suffering from prostrate cancer, and has symptoms of Bell Palsy. It was a sudden attack of illness, till now he was fit and healthy. Not only did his work get affected, but his relationship with his wife has also strained. He would get angry at the drop of a hat and throw things. Seeing him in that condition led to his wife going into depression. She took a lot of time to come to terms with his condition. Many couples going through situations like these, come to seek help, as it’s difficult for them to figure out how to navigate the relationship now. The bond, trust and positivity gets sucked by the illness. Therapy certainly helps in dealing with trauma and also channelises positivity in the relationship.’ (Read: Are fights ruining your relationship?)
Dos for caregivers
- Try and view the situation very logically and at times learn to detach by engaging in leisure activities such as exercise, outings and so on.
- Seek help or support from your family and friends. For example, to switch duties.
- Visit a counselor if needed and allow yourself to vent and learn coping strategies.
- Time management is very important as you have to do multiple tasks on a daily basis.
- Go to supportive groups which are available in most hospitals as well as online so that you learn how others are dealing with the situation.
- Try and deal with your emotions and rationalise the situation by accepting it.
- Let your partner who is ill share his feelings and emotions. Right now this person needs catharsis.
Don’ts for caregivers
- Try not to tie yourself down to the patient’s routine and responsibilities only. At times, you can find ‘me time’ and de-stress.
- Try not to vent your frustration on your partner.
- Do not blame yourself for your partner’s condition.
- Try not to be too controlling and take each day as it comes. Be hopeful about the future.
Dos for patients
- Try to engage in a routine and have a structured schedule for yourself.
- Try to appreciate your partner’s efforts in your recovery.
- Engage in relaxing activities such as listening to music, watching your favourite television shows/ movies, yoga (if the disease permits).
- Sometimes, maintaining a diary can be helpful for the person to express his thoughts/ feelings.
- Try to deal with your feelings of fear and adopt a resilient approach.
- Recuperating from any illness, takes time, one has to be positive.
- Try building bond with your partner, it helps heal the illness quickly.
- Attend support groups with your partner, it helps you cope better.
Don’ts for patients
- Avoid the blame game process.
- Try not to engage in self-pity.
- Try not to use your condition as an excuse and make efforts in aspects of life that you can.
- Don’t push away your partner, that will have a negative impact on your relationship.
- Don’t lose hope or give up.