You and your partner

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Read about coping with the challenges of taking care of a disabled child. These challenges can have a huge impact on the relationship between the parents.

Key points

  • It is normal for parents to react differently and cope in their own ways when they have a child who is sick or who needs extra care.
  • Make sure you are each caring for yourselves and taking care of your own mental and physical health.
  • Talk to each other and try to find methods of coping together or separately, such as physical activity or support groups.

Coping with the challenges of taking care of a disabled child can have a huge impact on the relationship between the parents. Even if your relationship is strong, it’s normal for each parent to react and cope differently.

Here are some suggestions to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner while you both are coping:

  • Find time to spend at least five minutes a day with your partner alone. Talk about the good experiences of the day as well as the bad.
  • Don’t judge the other person’s emotions or behaviour. One parent may burst into tears every day, while the other might not show any emotion. One parent might become knowledgeable about the child’s condition and active in managing the situation, but the other might fall apart. It doesn’t mean that both parents don’t love the child just as much.
  • Confront your emotions by talking about them. Sometimes parents direct anger at each other, either directly by lashing out or indirectly, by getting easily irritated. It can have an impact on the relationship. When parents are already stressed, it is difficult to deal with the additional stress in a relationship. Hiding anger is also unhealthy.
  • Take care of yourself and manage your stress.

Caring for yourself

You may become so busy caring for your child and the rest of your family that you forget about yourself. At times this may be overwhelming. It’s important for you to take care of yourself to stay healthy. You can easily become ill because of the stress or lack of sleep. If you develop a medical illness, see your doctor and get treatment. If your condition gets worse, you’ll be less able to be there for your family.

If you experience any of the following feelings for more than a few weeks, it may be a sign that you need to take more time to care for yourself or get help in managing parts of your routine.

  • extreme sadness
  • anger
  • eating problems
  • confusion
  • anxiety
  • physical pain
  • feeling overwhelmed

Here are some approaches that might help:

Talk to others: Talking to someone you trust and rely on is one of the best ways to deal with your feelings. This can be a family member, friend, support group, social worker, or other professional.

Stress relief: Try finding some regular time each week for yourself, to reduce your stress. Taking this time is not selfish. It is important for you to refresh yourself so that you can continue caring for your child effectively.

You might have some favourite stress relief practices already. You may also wish to try one of the following:

  • massage therapy
  • walking, yoga, or other exercise
  • prayer or meditation
  • warm baths
  • music
  • humour
  • watching movies or television

Other services that might be helpful include:

Respite workers: There are services available in which a respite worker comes into your home occasionally, so that you can take a break.

Support groups: A support group is a good place to express your feelings, frustrations, and worries, and to learn how others with similar problems dealt with practical problems. There are support groups for parents, as well as for children and siblings. Meetings may be held in the hospital or community. If you are more comfortable speaking to someone one-on-one, you may be able to find someone through a local organization or the treatment team. There are also many chat rooms and listservs on the Internet, but beware that you don’t get caught up in other people’s anxieties.

Physical health: Make sure that you see your family doctor and dentist when you should. Make sure you eat well, exercise, sleep regularly, and find time to relax. If you don’t, you run the risk of falling ill.

Counselling for individuals or families: Sometimes the stress of a child’s illness is so huge, that it is helpful to speak to a counsellor or psychologist. You may go by yourself, with your spouse, or with your family. The counsellor can give you ideas on how to help your family adjust to the changes you are facing. It can provide a safe place for everyone to talk about how they are feeling. This can help make your life easier to handle.

Last updated: October 31st 2009