When your life has been impacted by an injury, it’s easy to overlook the effect that this change might have on your relationship with your partner. As a Bethesda, MD therapist might explain, many couples will struggle to come to a “new normal” with regard to co-managing their lives. Here’s what to expect, and how to cope:
- Communication is the single biggest challenge for couples overcoming injury together. When both partners are stressed, communication is likely to take on a new intensity that may be difficult to manage. Both partners may find themselves hesitant to express negative feelings for fear of burdening or overwhelming the other partner. These challenges are best managed through sincere, focused attention to the goal of healthy communication. Make a commitment to sit quietly together and speak honestly about relevant feelings and challenges at least once a day. The goal is to provide empathy—to give your partner the message that you understand what they are feeling, and that it matters to you. The goal is NOT to agree to feel the same way about something, or to try to make sense of WHY your partner feels the way they do. Feelings are often not logical, and it’s easy to get stuck if logic and emotion are at odds with each other.
- Relationship roles that are well-established can be tough to change in the face of a serious injury or health condition. Many couples divide or alternate responsibilities, and a new system will likely be needed during and after recovery. Partners who previously considered their relationship to be egalitarian may be uncomfortable with a shift to a more hierarchical structure if, for example, the non-injured partner must make decisions for the injured partner that s/he would have previously made for themselves. You should expect and allow for an adjustment period while you work together to get these shifts figured out. Be open with close friends and families about what kids of changes you’re making to relationship roles so that they don’t inadvertently put pressure on the injured partner to fulfill old role expectations. Be gentle with each other, and expect that your partner will likely not do things the same way you did. The most important thing is that the necessary tasks get done, not that they get done a certain way.
- The injured partner may be less able to fulfill responsibilities that they have taken on for much of the relationship, both during and after recovery. In addition to filling this gap, the non-injured partner will likely need to take on new responsibilities for the physical care of the injured partner. These tasks are best managed with a flexible and positive perspective. It may also help to let go of some expectations about how things will be managed. For example, if your pre-injury life included a spotless house and pristinely manicured lawn, that standard might not be functional in the post-injury period. Let yourself be OK with a little mess here and there. The most important thing is to spend time together and focus on recovery.
Thanks to our friend and blog author, Lindsey Hoskins of Lindsey Hoskins & Associates, for her insight into the potential effects of an injury on your personal relationships.