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Coping with Chronic Ailments as a Couple

"Oh, it's just age catching up to us".... or "it's just diabetes," or "everybody gets high blood pressure".... whatever the "minor" problem might be, any type of ongoing physical issue can impact a relationship.  Whether it is a "bad back" or aching joints, skin conditions, allergies, decreased tolerance to alcohol, fatigue, or any of those things that we won't die from immediately, can still affect both parties in a couple.

Physical Ailments Cause Emotional Changes

For the person who has the illness or condition, coming to terms with its effects and needed lifestyle changes can cause serious distress.  Feeling tired, aching, or having to begin taking medications on a routine basis (which may have side effects), changes in current abilities, for example, can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, sadness.  One may also feel useless, or just feel guilty about having a decreased ability to "help out" around the house, for example.  There may be feelings of "it's my life" and a denial of a need to change in order to gain or maintain better health.

For the other partner, he may feel a wide range of emotions.  There may be sadness at loss of activities, resentment at having to take on more work, guilt for having those feelings, and empathy for the ailing partner.  One may feel like blaming the other partner for not having taken care of him/herself, or may experience frustration as the other person struggles to adjust.  There may be feelings of angst as the dream of "spending our retirement together" changes.

The Importance of Communication

For both partners, communication and understanding are necessary coping tools.  Although many effects of the ailment(s) are dealt with on an individual level, it is even more important for clear communication to occur.  Support and "walking in someone else's shoes" are vital.  Working out new relationship responsibilities and facing the new health issues together will help couples move forward.  Delineating healthy boundaries of responsibility and cooperation is also important.  

Support groups, self-help books, and couples counseling are some resources for assistance.  It is perfectly okay and normal to experience stress at any change and adjustment, even if it seems "minor."  Chronic or ongoing changes in physical health can definitely cause stress, and couples should feel it is okay to seek help in finding ways to cope. 

It's OK to Ask for Help!

We all get older, and most of us will face some type of health issue or chronic ailment at some point in our lives - if we are part of a couple, then our "couplehood" will inevitably be affected.  Some couples will ride it out with ease, but it is also possible and normal for stress, frustration and other adjustment-related feelings to cloud even the "best" relationships.  It IS okay to acknowledge and seek help if it doesn't seem so easy.  Life is short and our time with our beloved partners is even shorter - so let's make the best of it that we can!  


From Victim Advocacy with survivors of abuse and violence, case management with senior citizens and their families, counseling with at-risk youth and their families, to therapy with adults fighting addiction - bereavement, depression, relationship issues, parenting issues, divorce, blended families, disability, career changes, life changes, my professional experience has encountered it all (so to speak). Fitness, health, coping with chronic illness, aging parents, raising children, job loss, job stress,.... and the list goes on!

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