Friday, June 12, 2015

Have You Read "Being Mortal" Part 2


It can be somewhat difficult to understand the system-ness, the symbiosis, that develops for the couple.  It might be more accessible to think of your relationship with your dog or cat.  You are tuned into each other's moods.  When you are unhappy, your pet may lick your hand or rub against you.  When your pet is agitated, you pet her and try to rectify the source of her distress.  You think of the effect of your decisions on your pet.  Should you move, you look for an apartment that accepts pets.  You may even have as a requirement that your potential life partner love your pet, and be loved by your pet.  As intertwined as we are with our pets, we are even more bonded, more unified with our life partner, with whom we share beliefs, values, and experiences of much greater complexity.

Whether the couple relationship is a loving, compassionate one, or a constant series of sniper attacks, the couple is still a system, one that exerts massive influence on each partner.

Some partners are unkind and insensitive to each other.  Even cruel.  And this toxic relationship can affect how medical treatment is perceived and implemented.  Some people we interviewed for our book, In Sickness as In Health: Helping Couples Cope with the Complexities of Illness, described a domineering well partner who influenced the ill partner to eliminate a prescribed medication because he didn’t like the side effects of nausea and tiredness.

If the relationship is an unhealthy one, the doctor or clinician, who is usually bequeathed a high level of authority, may be able to steer the partners into becoming more of a team for the sake of fighting the illness together; and, if this is not possible, at least the clinician will know what she’s dealing with and may be able to mitigate the impact of partner sabotage.  It becomes especially important in these situations for the health care practitioner to either build a connection with the authoritarian partner, and/or encourage the ill partner to enlist a more supportive caregiver.

If the relationship is a loving, supportive one, and the couple is recognized as a unit of treatment, along with the patient, their combined forces can be marshaled to understand the illness and treatment options and make decisions that will enhance their connection and well-being.  Those decisions will then be supported by the joined strength and love of the couple relationship.  

As a psychologist we interviewed for our book said;  "Love heals.  It is the only thing that truly does."

Even if a physical cure is unlikely, a healing of mind and of heart are always possible.  And that kind of healing requires love.  The love of the partners for each other is a wellspring for that kind of healing love.

And if the partners have not had a loving relationship, then the final phase of life offers both of them one last opportunity to touch what brought them together in the first place.  And hopefully they will find some embers of that first yearning that they can draw upon to create a shared warmth and mutual consolation.

I'm interested in knowing from you:

  • To what extent have your doctors and other practitioners included your partner in their treatment approaches and asked about his/her well being?   
  • Have they asked about how you both are weathering the illness experience as couple?  
  • Have they asked what your relationship goals are?
  • Have you told your doctor anything about how your partner is doing?  How your relationship is doing?

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