This is a rather “odd” post for me. You see, at the time Emily was diagnosed with Epilepsy, her father and I were only recently divorced (about a month). That said, I know that an illness in a family, regardless of which family member it is, is difficult on a marriage; or any relationship for that matter.
I have listened to and spoken with many wives, husbands, partners, siblings, aunts, uncles…you name it…about the difficulty they endured when coping with family illness. Ironically, despite the relationship, there was one resounding similarity…the illness being suffered by the patient was taking its toll on the people all around who were trying to help.
While I don’t have all the answers, I have been able to compile what I consider the four most important tips I share with couples who feel that their child’s illness is ruining their marriage.
Tip #1 – Take a Time Out
As parents, our lives are often stretched thin trying to fit in the everyday demands of holding down a job, taxiing children to an overloaded schedule of activities, staying current with friends and family, etc… Now, throw in a sick child and all the new responsibilities of doctors appointments, medicine, new diets and routines and you literally may feel like you’re about to lose your mind!
As a couple, sit down and spell out your need for a regular “time out”. Whether that means that dad gets to spend 2 hours every Saturday tinkering in the garage without interruption, or mom gets to go to her book club meeting every second Tuesday, make sure you write it down, schedule it in, communicate it to the kids (so they can be part of helping it happen) and support each other in making it happen!!!
Tip #2 – Divide and Conquer
When you go to work each day, hopefully you have a job description and you know specifically what is expected of you. This type of organization and allocation of tasks is what helps organizations earns profit and keep their doors open, achieving what it is they are in business to do.
Same goes for organizing your family. While I suggest this a a good habit of practice for any family, I think this applies even more to families who are under the pressure of helping a child who is chronically ill. Sit down and make a list of all the things that need to be done in a day, a week and a month in your family. Beside each item allocate it to a member of the family. Be mindful of work schedules, chore preference and unique abilities. Make sure to get agreement about who should be doing what.
Next, put that list somewhere that supports you and your partner at being mindful of what is required and when. If you notice that something didn’t get done…well, that leads me to point #3
Tip #3 – Show Compassion and Appreciation
You know how this works…it’s often those who are closest to us that bear the brunt of our bad day, bad mood and feelings of despair, depression and sadness.
Make a point of showing your partner some love and compassion every day. Schedule it in!!!! going back to the example of work…you wouldn’t consider canceling a daily meeting with your boss to review delinquent accounts; after all, if you don’t collect those funds how would you expect to get paid next Friday. So, make a meeting (daily if possible), to spend 5 minutes letting your spouse know what you are grateful for. This is like making daily deposits to your wellness account so that when you really have a rainy day, you can reach in and make a withdrawal. Couples who don’t take the time to show compassion and gratitude on a regular (daily) basis, run the risk of developing anger and resentment and start the process of building walls of non-communication between them. Not only is this counter-productive in your marriage, it will spell disaster if you hit a rough spot on the road to recovery with your child. A healthily marriage is essential to your child’s emotional wellness at a time they have physically un-wellness.
Tip #4 – Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
There are so many ways you can ask for help. From hiring a maid service to come and do those pesky household chores you can’t seem to get around to, to getting your next door neighbor to pop over for 30 minutes in the evening while you and your partner go for a stroll around the block, being strong enough to ask for help is a saving grace.
I know, that before Emily was sick I was often unable to accept or ask for help. Now, I jump at the chance to let others be part of the solution. I know I can’t do this alone. And I also know that Emily benefits from seeing us ask and get help and let others be part of the solution.
Like I said at the start, illness can be a total drag on your relationships. But it can also act as a catalyst to building a stronger relationship with ties that bind you and your family stronger; that was the case with us. Emily’s illness brought us closer and offered us a chance to reconcile our family, a chance we are gambling on and exploiting!!!
You and you alone have the choice to let your child’s illness ruin your marriage or make it even better than it ever was before…there really is a silver lining of you want there to be!!!
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