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February 7, 2014
by Casey Truffo, LMFT

Coping With Your Spouse's Long-Term Illness

February 7, 2014 04:55 by Casey Truffo, LMFT  [About the Author]

A New Way of Life

You probably know an older couple where health issues are present and one spouse has to care for the other.  Have you ever considered that accidents and illnesses can occur at any time in life and this could be something even younger couples may have to endure?  Just because you are in your 20s or 30s does not mean you are exempt from the possibility one spouse or partner contracting a long-term illness and the other needing to become that person’s caregiver. 

Long-term, also referred to as chronic, illnesses include medical conditions or issues that will have to be dealt with over a long period of time, quite possibly for the rest of the ailing person's life.  Examples of these conditions and illnesses include cancer and arthritis, as well as heart attack survivors and stroke survivors. 

The First Step

The first step is to accept whatever situation you have been dealt, and realize that you may have to change many things in your life.  You may have to make small changes, or you may have to revamp every aspect of your life.  It may take a considerable amount of time to accept what is going on in your world, as well as to accept that serious changes need to be made in your life, in order for you to take care of your ailing spouse. 

Here are some dos and don'ts to consider when trying to cope with your spouse's illness or when transitioning to the role of caring for your spouse's long-term illness.

DO realize that it is normal for all sorts of feelings to flood you and overwhelm you.

DO expect to be fearful, anxious and stressed.

DO discuss the situation with your ailing spouse, but also talk about other things. Do your best to not let the focus of your time together be the illness.

DO encourage your spouse or partner to do things they are able to do.  This will help your spouse feel useful and needed – something we ALL need. 

DON'T feel embarrassed by the gamut of emotions you will be facing. 

DON'T avoid talking about your concerns or your spouse's fears – with them AND with a close friend, relative or counselor.  If you ignore it, it will not go away.

DON'T be pessimistic.  Your optimism can be a source of strength and encouragement for your spouse. Pessimism and negativity can make your spouse feel like you’re giving up on them.

DON'T resort to treating your spouse like a child or a patient.


Regardless of how committed you are and how much you embrace taking care of your spouse or partner, there will be times when you both find it very hard to cope.  If your or your spouse find it hard to deal with your feelings and emotions, you may want to seek professional help.  A trained counselor or therapist will be able to help you deal with all of the changes that are going on in your life.  A counselor can help you understand your new role and give you pointers for how to ask for help.  Additionally, it may be helpful for you to join a support group of your peers who are going through the same thing in their lives.  If nothing else, talking to others who know what you're dealing with can help you to stop feeling isolated.

One thing people who are dealing with long-term illness sometimes overlook is the support that can be gained by allowing friends and family into your situation.  The people who love you can not only can provide support, but it can also be there to give you a break every once in a while.  Many times friends and family are willing to help with anything you and your spouse may need, but they are unsure of what things are needed or would make things easier for you, or may be afraid to ask.  Ask for what you need, whether it is for someone to sit with your ailing spouse so you can get out of the house for a bit, for someone to cook dinner once a week, or for someone to run errands you can't find the time to run yourself.  Think about how you would be willing to help your friends and family in their times of need, and welcome their assistance and support.

Take Time for You

Another consideration is that you still need time for yourself.  Try to stay involved in activities and interests you were involved with prior to your spouse's illness.  Keep in touch with people who are important to you, and draw strength from these relationships.  Although you may feel obligated to stop doing things other than taking care of your spouse, or guilty about taking time for yourself, it is imperative you realize that you need "you" time as well.  Taking the time to take care of yourself will lessen your stress and anxiety levels so when you are taking care of your spouse, you are doing so while being refreshed and in a more positive frame of mind.

Realize there may come a time when caring for your spouse is too much for you to handle alone.  If you can afford to hire someone to come into your home to help, do so.  Whether a cleaning service or a part-time nurse, hiring these people can really make a difference.  Realize, also, that you may need to move your spouse into a long-term care facility.

There are so many things to think about when a long-term illness becomes part of your world.  You don't have to go through it alone.  Contact one of our skilled professionals at the Orange County Relationship Center.  Call us today at 949-220-3211, or schedule your appointment using our online calendar.  Help is only a phone call or click away. 

About the Author

OC Relationship Center OC Relationship Center, LMFT

We started OC Relationship Center because we believe that relationships are the place where everyone should feel the safest and experience the most joy. And that is what our entire mission is based upon. That relationship may be with someone you love, live with, work with or even yourself. Our caring, professional and licensed clinicians want to help you with the skills to get what you want in your relationships - whether you are single, dating, living together, married, divorced or widowed.

Office Location:
1400 Bristol Street North, Suite 245B
Newport Beach, California
United States
Phone: (949) 220-3211
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