Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How Differences Can Lead to Trouble

The impact of the illness is experienced differently by each partner.  They do not perceive the situation in the same way, and they are not feeling the same things about their situation.  Recognizing these differences in perception and feeling is critical to maintaining connectedness.

The ill person suffers both physical pain and soul pain – both are severe.  Her body has betrayed her and her identity has been hijacked by illness.  The life she had is gone and she doesn’t know what to do or who she can be.  There is a sharp and potentially demoralizing gap between her internalized image of herself (young and healthy) and the present external reality.  And while she is in this state she has to rely on specialists she might not really know.

For the well partner, his world has changed on him.  On top of his confusion and fear, he feels he has to be strong while he helplessly watches his sweetie suffer.   And he may feel resentful - of the illness, of doctors, and even of her -- and guilty for feeling that way. 

Here's a not unusual scenario about how these differences can play out:
The ill partner may need some alone time to adjust to her new state; and the well partner may be driven to find a way to help her.  If they don’t recognize that their needs are different in this moment, he is likely to feel rejected by her need for alone time, and she is likely to feel pressured by his attempts to help her.   

The result: she is likely to hold more tightly to her privacy, which will make him feel more excluded; and he is likely to pressure her more strongly to let him in so he can help.  They grow resentful and distant.   

If they could recognize and make space for their differences – she might be able to say “I need some alone time to think – but I am not retreating from you.”  And he might be able to say –“I want to help you any way I can so I’ll respect your space, but I need to check in with you periodically to see how you are, and hope that’s OK.” 

In this way they are respecting their differences while maintaining their connection.

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