Couples Therapy Can Be A Foundation During A Health Crisis
No couple wants to think about health crises in their relationship, but couples therapy can be a way to get close to these difficult situations if and when they arise. Couples therapy creates a solid foundation for couples to navigate the inevitable changes in their relationship as they confront new caretaking responsibilities, health issues and decisions regarding treatment.
We also work with couples who have been through a health crisis, even one they’re still managing or dealing with the long-term effects of, to help them discover, create or remember that even in the midst of an intense health challenge they are more to one another than simply caretaking and decision-making.
Health Crises And Caretaking Can Create A Crisis Of Roles In A Relationship
A health crisis can create a crisis of roles that produces a change in how partners relate to one another. In particular, when a health crisis asks a partner to take on caretaking responsibilities, partners find themselves in new roles, relating to one another from a vantage point of needing and being needed that has never been present before.
Perhaps one partner made certain sorts of decisions in the relationship, but is now in a position of deference. Bodies that once worked in a particular way have now changed. Taking care of a partner can sometimes feel like taking care of a child. Being cared for can be dispiriting and disempowering and can feel infantilizing. How can couples navigate these changes? How do you go from watching a partner being prepped for surgery or helping him or her to the bathroom to a place of intimacy and physical closeness of a romantic or sexual sort?
Grieving Helps Couples Come To Terms With “That It Happened”
Most health crises don’t end in death, but they often come with trauma and loss–the trauma of the uncertainty and the pain or the loss of mobility and time. People talk a lot about “who I was before.” In a sense, that phrase assumes there’s the potential to return to a before. But, that’s not possible.
Grief, in a sense, is coming to terms with that it happened. That it happened is not a simple thing to accept. We often say, “I wish this never happened” or “I wish I could go back to the way things were before it happened.” In grief, we learn to walk upright in spite of what happened.
Couples often need to cry together to learn what each of their experiences were of a health crisis. We work to help couples grieve together to recognize that it happened. They went through this. They’ve changed and they can grow in ways to accommodate what happened.
Learning New Ways To Be Close During And After A Health Crisis
The question, then, is: how can a couple dealing with a health crisis be close? Couples, both during and after a health crisis, have to learn a new way to be close to one another.
Couples need to discover new ways of flirting, new ways of understanding sexuality and new ways, perhaps, of having sex. Couples do this by grieving together, but also by playing together. It is essential to learn to laugh at their bodies, their experiences and the awkwardness of learning to be close to someone you’ve slept next to for years.
While A Couples Therapist Isn’t A Decision Maker, We Can Help Partners Understand The Stakes
Treatment decisions involve all of the usual challenges of making high-stakes collaborative decisions, but they also usually include potentially severe consequences. A couples therapist isn’t a decision maker, but we are skilled at helping partners understand the stakes of a decision, see who one another are as decision makers, what baggage and assumption each partner brings, and create space to hear what’s emotional. This is particularly helpful if family members are still in shock. A couples therapist can help sort out the questions that are emotional from the questions that are most relevant to health.
When it comes to managing a health crisis, part of what’s challenging about making decisions is managing what happened. If a partner had a serious accident and needs round-the-clock care, this is a massive event in a couple’s life. The process of grief, especially if stuck, can interfere with the set of decisions that surround such an event.
End Of Life Decisions
Perhaps nowhere do we realize how interconnected our lives are than in planning for death. While death can’t always be planned for, it’s an inevitable event and one that partners must discuss. It is, of course, riddled with emotional obstacles. What does it mean to be without one another? How will we manage the grief? Have we provided for our loved ones well?
There are no easy answers but recognizing that much of the challenge is emotional can allow the conversation to emerge from an acknowledgement of that fact. Putting it off, fighting or disagreeing can be seen in a different light once the intense emotionality of the moment is acknowledged.