Nene Leakes and Gregg Leakes have been dealing with marital problems during this season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, which relate back to Gregg’s cancer diagnosis. They’re not alone in this regard: Caring for your partner while they face a possible fatal illness can cause major stress and fractures within the relationship, therapists tell Personal Space.
“We always see what people are made of when adversity strikes. Illness can surely test a marriage,” therapist Jason Eric Ross said. “When this happens it’s imperative that one spouse or partner has empathy for the other, and at the same time doesn’t lose sight of his or her own self-care."
“Stay calm and put yourself in your partner’s shoes,” he added. “Become informed about the nature of the illness. That will give you some idea of how you would want to be treated in the same situation. A compassionate approach would be best. At the same time you need to be mindful of yourself. Talking to a professional is a great idea during these times. Physical self-care is also very important. Often people feel guilty about taking care of themselves during these difficult times, however I believe you need to double down here whether [it’s] meditation, massage, healthy food, or exercise. It will help to make you a better caregiver.”
New York-based licensed marriage and family therapist Lauren Eavarone says in order to save a relationship suffering from one partner having an illness, both partners need to practice balance.
“The ability to set boundaries and maintain differentiation (demonstrate care while still prioritizing self) is key to the preservation of a relationship,” Eavarone said. “This reduces likeliness of resentment as autonomy is still prioritized despite illness of one partner.”
She added to be sure to ask your partner what they may need from you, because she “often observes the non-Ill partner reporting a feeling of helplessness while trying to blindly navigate what their partner needs from them.”
“People often avoiding having that dialogue as to not trigger further stress,” Eavarone said. “Cognitive distortions such as ‘shoulds’ and ‘jumping to conclusions’ have unhealthy consequences that create complications for the individuals and relationship. Try being conscious of whether such cognitive distortions are present and are actual the cause of underlying concerns.”
Getting into couples therapy is advised. “Use available resources. Balancing between being a romantic partner and a caretaker can have an emotional toll in the long run. Find a therapist for you both to meet with, ask help from loved ones, look into community resources that may be available. There’s no ‘right’ way of navigating caring for a loved one when they are unwell. It’s important to explore what works for you both as a couple even if doesn’t fit neatly into a socialized norm.”