Relationships! A lot has been said about how to keep your relationship flourishing, thriving and growing. There are tons of books about this. I find many to be very true with tips and tricks to revamp even some of the most written off relationships. However, I cannot help feeling that they are not in touch with my reality.
You see, there are relationships like mine that start to feel cursed because of an un-foreseen external factor- having a sick child. At the early stage of a relationship, that lovey-dovey-you-can-do-no-wrong phase no one sees it coming. Two people come together, feel strongly enough about each other and then commit to share themselves entirely with each other. That decision forms the basis for what later becomes a magnetic union… a fusion… where children are supposed to spice things up! Well, not for everyone sadly. How about when having a child feels like the worst decision ever. A completely wrong move for you and for your partner. How can your relationship still go on to stand the test of time despite all the new challenges you both become beset with and I forgot to add for no fault of yours…?
Let’s insert a disclaimer here for the purpose of clarity. When I refer to relationships throughout this our heart to heart, I do not in any way imply that the two people must be married (although my religious beliefs may scream). I refer to relationships in both the rigid and loose sense of the word. Let’s just agree to see the relationships I am referring to as the coming together of two like minds hopefully for the long haul. Right? Good, now lets kindly jump right in!
So how can your relationship thrive despite the challenges you face as a carer? How can you both still look at each other and still feel lovey-dovey? Here are some ideas that I have found useful:
Expressing yourself – This is a key ingredient that can keep your relationship thriving. By expressing yourself in your relationship, you overcome the trap of bottling things up. When a barrier exists between you and your partner, you will be unable to constantly share your problems with each other. The reason it is important to be able to rub you minds together as often as possible is that, ultimately, no one else can understand the gravity of your circumstance more than your partner. Take time to listen to each other. Within your relationship is an interesting symbiosis that holds strengths within it. Sometimes one person is strong for the other. But like a race, you ultimately keep passing this baton of strength to each other. Let pride have no place between you both or else the flow of strength will be limited. If one person is constantly strong and never allows the other to help them when they are weak then the pressure starts to build up. For the stronger, the inability to keep expressing themselves hinders self-release. It ultimately leads to frustration, lashing out and undue pressure. Similarly when the other person keeps leaning on the stronger one without getting a grip especially when it matters, they become weakened by the situation thereby losing the ability to be strong. By supporting your partner, even when you cannot feel it, you assume the strength that they lose when they are weak. You each then by that act allow each other to be toughened and strengthened by the situation and challenges you face. It is okay to cry. I cry, it is a nice release if used appropriately. However, like all in life, it requires moderation as crying constantly may trigger self-pity and at times build up stress.
Sharing the pain – The challenge of having an ill child is easiest when shared. No member of your partnership must assume monopoly of the child. Mums tend to be guilty of this. They feel that they are the ones best suited to care for the sick child. This may hold true initially especially when the illness is short-term. For example the odd flu or immunisation temperature, the periodic flu and so on. However, when the illness is long-term both of you need to consider a readjustment. Sometimes illnesses stay longer than we think and if they are lifelong, then like with everything else you have to adapt the new routines to suit the family needs. For starters, the child belongs to you both. It does not matter if both of you are biological parents or not. What matters is that you have both agreed to share responsibility. Let this responsibility not be shared by mere lip service. Put it into action. Allow your other half to care for the child. If they cannot, help them to learn kindly. If you are learning, be willing to learn. Remember that a problem shared is halved. It is also good for the child to feel the attention from both parents. In addition, especially for parents with other kids, this swapping becomes very useful for the other kid(s). Remember like we said earlier, if you take on too much then the pressure builds up. How can your partner appreciate the challenges you face caring for the child if you do the caring all by yourself. It will be easier for them to appreciate your efforts by experiencing them firsthand. If your partner is not helping out, encourage them to see that it is actually the responsibility of each parent in the relationship.
Create time for each other – This is a very crucial factor. In fact it should be key. In the first place, you are both the bedrocks… the founders of your family. To ignore each other will be as good as switching off the oxygen in the relationship. You both matter. The parental challenges imposed on the relationship due to illness can put a strain on the romance once shared by you both. It is important to put the needs of the children first but do not forget that you had each other before the kid(s) came along. If you do not spend time with each other you start to wither. When last did you have sex? Has it become a thing of the past? Sometimes even a simple cuddle under the sheets can be very healing. I find sex to be a very good stress relief tool. You even has the added advantage of exercising during the activity especially if your caring role has left you very unable to move around as much. What’s more, it allows your brain release endorphins due to the exertion. Those endorphins are very well deserved feel good hormones. In some relationships and for various reasons couples are unable to express their love in this way. The important thing is for couples to find an activity that can provide an enjoyable closeness between both parties in a way that will be unique to them. By creating time for each other, both are able to enjoy a fusion that enables them experience self-abandonment, trust, love and ultimately exude happiness.
Be more forgiving – I always like to say that anytime you lose sight of the girlfriend in your wife or forget the boyfriend in your husband, then you need to retrace your footsteps. Go back to the beginning. You know what they are like! It still applies to all relationships. There is always the need never to lose sight of that apple-of-my eye-drum that your partner alone can beat in your heart. Keeping these thoughts in mind will help you to be more patient with each other. You are both neither perfect nor should you expect such from each other. The odd snipe or harsh words should be quickly overlooked. You are both constantly stressed by virtue of being carers. Never lose sight of the person you are with (in marriage or otherwise). Trust that they love you irrespective of what they say or do (at least within reason). You are both stressed out and stress can turn people into monsters. Half of the time they do not mean most of the things they blurt out in anger. Be patient, be more forgiving to yourself and to your partner. Try not to upset each other because this will only increase your stress levels. You need to communicate effectively by learning to have open an honest conversations with each other. This technique normally yields more results compared to trying to score points against each other. No one can know how you really feel if you cannot find a way to communicate it to them. This also applies to your partner. You will be more able to forgive each other when you can understand each other better.
Take time out – It is so easy to be trapped in your role as a parent carer. With tons of things to do daily, it can sometimes feel like you need to have 30 hours in your day instead of 24! Many carers feel like the easiest way to cope is to be locked away in their world. Trust me, I know how safe that lonely world feels. After all many of your friends may not even understand what you are going through. It feels irritating sometimes when they appear to yap on about “their problems” which to you are not problems considering how dire your circumstance with your child is. Then comes the added stress of going over your plight with them until you get tired of being pitied. The worst part is the vulnerability you feel emotionally when you start worrying about how everyone else views you, your child and your circumstance. It is emotionally exhausting. Well never lose sight of the fact that it’s their own perspective and you still have the right to be happy. It’s not your fault that things have turned out as they are for you so be kind to yourself. Live a little. You and your partner should still find time to socialise individually or together whichever works out best for you. Watching a simple movie together at home or outdoors where possible can help tilt your focus away from your realities even for an hour. It can feel relaxing to know that you can still do simple things together. You can take walks together, do the house work together, anything, just try where possible to create activities that you can enjoy while taking a break from caring for your child. A few minutes a day away from your role can lift your spirits by giving you something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to take long as long as you grab a well deserved me-time. You may want to look on your local council website or in the UK, the government website for specialist carers who can mind your child safely. You can join the carers UK or your local carers for support and advise. These are organisations that provide support for carers to enable them socialise and engage themselves in various activities. They also organise forums that help allow the carers feed off the warmth and support from other carers. You can participate in these activities with your partner and alongside each other to foster togetherness. You can also participate separately, in the end feeling well rested will create renewed, positive energy that can help strengthen your relationship.
Thank you for reading.
If you enjoyed reading this, you may also enjoy some other topics we have discussed in this series.
Photo credit: Pixabay