Keeping Your Relationship Healthy When Your Veteran Spouse/Partner Is Injured
© Dr. Angie Panos and Gift From Within
Is keeping a relationship healthy easy even in the best of situations? People in long lasting relationships report that it takes an investment of constant effort, like growing a beautiful garden to keep a relationship thriving. When your loved-one has a serious injury and you are in a care-giving role, it can take a toll on your relationship.
In order to keep your relationship strong, you need to evaluate honestly how you are doing.
- Discovering the true impact the illness has had on your relationship.
- Forgiving each other (and yourself).
- Recognizing what needs to improve.
- Finding ways to create hope.
- Creating balance and ways to meet both partner's needs.
- Learning new skills.
- Knowing when to look for help and outside resources.
Everyone in the household is touched when their family member comes home with a serious injury. The injured partner may feel like they are bringing less to the relationship than their healthy partner. The injured partner may feel they are "holding back" the healthy partner from being fulfilled. Feelings of insecurity arise along with shame and guilt. The injured partner believes that their healthy partner must be resentful of what their life has become due to their injury. A vicious cycle develops with the feeling of inadequacy and the continual need to apologize.
A good marriage consists of shared activities, shared responsibility, common goals, along with healthy intimacy. Once one partner feels they are the reason for the disruption in the relationship they feel deep anxiety and sadness. The injured spouse becomes encumbered with self-doubt and wonders why their spouse stays in the marriage. Partners don't feel free to ask for emotional support from each other.
Here are some helpful hints from couples who have worked through having an injured partner:
"Don't take things too personally. I knew my husband felt cranky because he was in pain. I was an easy target for his irritability at times. He would apologize later, and I would brush it off. If I had taken it personally, or resented him for it, we would have had a lot of conflict."
"I tried to put myself in his boots and realize it's not easy. So I don't feel badly if he appears to lash out at me at times."
"When my wife would get mouthy and use foul language, I tried to turn up my compassion. I asked her what her pain level was. Inevitably her pain would correlate with her moods. I went with her to her doctor at the VA and explained what I was seeing. They got her into some physical therapy to help with the pain control."
"We would have a weekly time to share our feelings and ask for the kinds of support we needed from each other. We would also try to have a date night and do something fun. These things helped us get through many months of rehabilitation."
Talk Together and with the Doctor:
- Discuss the injuries. A thorough understanding of the healing process and limitations is essential for the healthy partner.
- Learn to explain symptoms in a measurable way. Saying "I'm tired" is not as effective as explaining that you feel as weak as you did when you had a bout of the flu.
- Use a scale of 0-10 to describe severity of symptoms.
Be Helpful in Their Independence:
- Find how to help without being overly helpful and annoying.
- Too much can make the injured partner feel demeaned or powerless.
"I was trying to walk more after I got my leg prosthesis. My husband was hovering over me worried that I would fall. I could see that our goals clashed and we had to talk through how I needed him to give me some space to try out my new leg."
Make Caring Mutual:
Deal with the ups and downs of the healing process. It takes ongoing communication and imagination to find ways to give and take and to acknowledge what each partner can do for each other. To avoid silent resentment, make direct requests when you need something. Don't assume your partner knows what you need. Instead, give your partner the recipe for success. Do assume they care and want to give you what you need. Educate them on what they can do. Is it quality time and attention you need? Perhaps it is some type of physical affection they can offer you? Ask for the words or actions you are hoping to receive. This is new territory for you both. Coaching each other through it in a supportive way will lead you both to a healthy, happy relationship.
Keep your spouse from feeling neglected. Health issues may suddenly throw sex out the window, but intimacy does not have to follow. An honest discussion is necessary even if the healthy partner is not complaining. Your well spouse may feel guilty or selfish for expressing their needs.
Deciding how you can best achieve a physical intimacy which affirms your feelings of love for each other. This requires talking very openly about how to do this and putting away unrealistic expectations about sex.
Arrange dates for intimacy, affection or sex so the injured person can prepare by taking pain medication, by not taking on too much during the day and by building a sense of desire. Time it for the best time of day (best energy, least pain, etc.) You need to make intimacy a priority and talk about it. Tell each other what feels sensual and what hurts.
- Learn to massage in a manner that relaxes your spouse.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about pain relief or therapeutic lotions for pain.
- Utilize lubrication or medications as needed.
- Sometimes a hot bath or shower before love-making is helpful.
Finding What Works for You:
- Physical limitations, emotional and physical fatigue, financial pressures, and lack of time can all affect intimacy and lovemaking.
- Snuggling may replace sexual intercourse. Sometimes, even touching or holding is difficult. Many people with health challenges report that although sexual intercourse is limited or non-existent, emotional and spiritual closeness increases.
- Look for new ways to express your love so that you can sustain a caring, growing relationship. Try alternative ways to experience sex and sensuality, from just hugging and gentle kissing to giving one another massages. Consider mutual or self stimulation while holding each other.
- Orgasm, for most people, produces a natural high. Not surprisingly, this helps with pain control, much the same as a "runner's high."