The Importance of Marital Communication When Sick Communication is important, but it become vital when you and your spouse are dealing with serious or ongoing health issues. Here's what to know. BY LOGAN LEVKOFF, PH. D.
It's when you're not feeling well or something isn't going right that you should double down on good communication.
“ There are times when we assume that if we really love someone, then communication should come easily to us.”
Communication. It’s one of those words that cannot be ignored when talking about how to create and nurture a good relationship, and certainly a nonnegotiable in a marriage. But when health issues, ranging from a headache to a chronic illness, come into play—communication becomes that much harder, and that much more important.
I get it: it’s boring to talk about communication. It’s certainly not a novel idea and for the most part it seems simple. Listen. Don’t yell. Don’t point fingers, and so on. What makes marriage different from dating though, is that marriage is the ultimate partnership. And that partnership is even more essential when dealing with health conditions like a chronic ailment because you become, in some ways, more reliant on your partner. When things get tough (and inevitably things can get tough), you can’t run away.
There are times when we assume that if we really love someone, then communication should come easily to us. Yet no matter how much in love we are, the reality is that talking about needs—regardless of whether those needs are sexual, emotional, physical, or related to our health—means recognizing awkward conversations can, and will, happen. In fact, they will happen often.
Communication can be even more challenging if a partner is navigating their world with a health issue or chronic illness. For example, partners living with a chronic illness, let’s say rheumatoid arthritis, may be trying to make sense of their bodies. They may even have a hard time coming up with a language for talking about their desires, needs, and sometimes, limitations. It is a tricky situation for a spouse to be in if we are not living this same bodily experience.
Whether you’ve been hitched for a long time, or for that matter a short time, creating meaningful and thoughtful dialogues with your spouse about how you’re feeling is important for relationship success. Below are a few tips:
* Take a walk in your partner’s shoes. Take a moment to think about what it would feel like to be diagnosed with a chronic condition. How would this impact your marriage? Then ask your partner to do the same for you. Have him/her imagine what you’re most afraid of, and what you’ll need to get through this journey together.
* Encourage your partner to ask questions. Your concerns are likely different from your spouse’s. Write down your questions and ask your partner to do the same. Think about what questions surprised you, and why.
* Tackle life’s curveballs together. Tell your spouse that you are committed to staying positive and working together, so that your health does not overshadow your relationship. There is no better way to measure the quality of a relationship (and a partner) than by seeing how they handle the tough times.
Finding resources for how a health issue impacts relationships and sexual health used to be difficult. Today, couples can find tips, tools, and patient anecdotes online. Moreover, learning how to (smoothly) navigate health-related topics is not just for partners; this information is equally important for caregivers, friends, or general support systems. No doubt the more information we have, the better off we are.
Good partners speak from the heart. They own their feelings—even the complicated ones—and they recognize their own personal challenges. Good spouses also know communication can only exist if both partners are talking. One has to listen and then switch roles. This is the balance of good communication in a great marriage.