Chronic illness can be a great place to compete without showing it. Who’s calling the shots, the patient or the caregiver? The ill spouse or the well spouse?
There is terrific power in each role – the caregiver and the patient. If the caregiver overplays their role, the ill person can feel more anxious and more disabled, giving the patient permission to curl up and sit. If the patient overplays their role, the caregiver takes on unnecessary tasks impacting their health and their ability to be an effective caregiver. For both the caregiver and the patient, balance can be a tough line to hold.
On the other hand, it’s terribly difficult to sit and watch your spouse struggle with discomfort and risk a fall to carry a plate to the kitchen counter.
Often the ill or disabled person doesn’t know what they can and can’t do until they try. Let them try and fail and then let them ask for help. Jumping in and doing it for them, before they have tried or asked for help, whittles at their independence and creates the polarizing dynamic that often happens when a chronic illness hits a family.
As my caregiving role evolved, I found myself doing far more for my husband than necessary. And by doing so, I was slowly stripping him of his independence and creating unnecessary angst for myself.
Helpful advice I received half way through my caring journey: “Don’t do things for your ill spouse that they can do for themselves.” For days after receiving this advice, I found myself acutely aware of how I was assuming more responsibilities around the house and for my husband than I needed to.
As the Well Parent™ we must move in the direction of letting go, even if it means sitting with our mouths shut and listening for the plate to crash to the floor. It’s not easy to do, but to survive the long haul it’s critical.