How To Cope With A Chronically Ill Spouse (In The Most Supportive Ways)
Marriage and partnership looks differently sometimes when chronic illnesses are involved. Here are some strategies to help you cope with the challenges of supporting your chronically ill spouse.
Don’t Take Everything Personally
I know that it may be surprising to read this as the first tip, but it’s a vital one. Have you ever noticed moments when your chronically ill spouse seems a bit snappy or upset? Then you ask, “What did I do?!” Cue the feelings of anger, confusion and overwhelm…
This is completely normal. Remember that your spouse has a lot going on and those emotions may not have anything to do with you.
In fact, chronic health conditions can affect your loved one’s mental health as they manage symptoms and make daily adjustments. Sometimes they may seem upset or down, but don’t immediately assume that it’s your fault. Have a conversation to confirm and then move accordingly to support your chronically ill loved one.
Celebrate the Good Moments
The journey with a chronically ill spouse can feel like you’re on a roller coaster ride filled with many low points. That new norm can make it hard to stay present when the “good days” come because you’re still recovering from the tough times. Hear me loud and clear: Celebrate the good moments as often as you can.
Good moments allow you to connect with yourself and spouse in ways you can’t when they aren’t feeling as well. Some of those good days may be filled with more smiles, laughs or simply less chaos. Take advantage of those moments by doing something either of you want to do. Try not to damper the moment with stressful discussions, if possible. Just enjoy the moment.
Here are some tips to help your spouse lead to the most number of “good days” with their chronic illness.
Do Fun Things for Yourself Aside of Your Spouse
It can be easy for you or your chronically ill spouse to lose a sense of yourself or have an identity crisis, because so much about your lives change as you focus on giving them what they need to manage their health condition. As their support system, it’s understandable that you want to make sure they have the best care.
Consider this as well: What have you done for yourself lately? If you’re like me, Janet Jackson’s song “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” comes to mind.
It’s so true. You can’t provide the best for your spouse if you are not taking care of your own needs. Self-care is essential to you being the most supportive spouse you can be.
So how do you go about doing that?
Make a list of some things you need including the fun stuff, and then plan to do them weekly. You have permission to do something for you that does not include caring for your spouse (even if for a couple of hours), because your own mental health relies on that balance. This becomes a necessary way to cope with your own emotions.
Time for yourself provides another opportunity for you to connect with who you are outside of being a caregiver. It may be a huge part of your life, but it is not your full identity.
If you’ve forgotten who you are outside of caring for your spouse (which is extremely common), go easy on yourself. This is an opportunity for you to learn more about what you want and need, because let’s face it – you’re changing, too.
Change can be exciting and healthy when done intentionally. You deserve it!
If you’re looking to get out and spend time with others in your circle, consider some tips on how to manage your social life with a chronically ill spouse.
Here are some activities to help cope with supporting your chronically ill spouse:
- Be with other people
- Go see a movie
- Play with your pet
- Listen to music
- Go to a friend’s house
- Clean/Reorganize a room in the house
- Treat yourself to a favorite meal or beverage
- Take up a new hobby
- Enjoy the outdoors
- Read a good book
- Allow yourself to cry
- Speak with a clergy
- Speak with a Chronic Illness Therapist
- Attend a support group for caregivers
Build a Supportive Community for Yourself
Chronic health conditions can bring on a sense of loneliness for your ill spouse, but you can also feel feeling isolated and misunderstood when caring for your spouse/partner. A helpful way to feel heard and supported is to surround yourself with others who get it.
This community of people can include friends, family members, therapists and members of caregiver support groups. It is important for your supportive community to listen and give you a much needed distraction from caregiving. They may ask how your chronically ill loved one is doing. Give yourself permission to communicate as much (or as little) as you’d like to help you feel connected with others and enjoy yourself.
At the end of the day, you want to be the most supportive spouse and partner as possible. The fact that you’re even reading this blog post shows how dedicated you are.
Here are more ways to support your loved one living with a chronic illness moving forward.
Next Steps for Chronic Illness Management
I help individuals and families who are living with anxiety, chronic illnesses and the emotional toll that it can bring. We can talk through your personal experiences as a caregiver, build more supports and help you cope with life as you support your chronically ill spouse.
Although you cannot control certain aspects of your spouse’s illness, your mindset and intentional response to your own physical and mental health are big steps for feeling more prepared.
You can schedule your first appointment with me by booking a free 15-minute consultation call.