So much of life is about balance. Balance affects almost every aspect of our lives including relationships. Keeping a healthy relationship in balance is hard and it becomes harder when Parkinson’s disease is added.
Relationships are filled with many competing roles and balancing them takes hard work. And few relationships are as difficult as caregiver and recipient. I see my wife struggle every day with the demands of family, job, and my caregiver.
Communication in relationships
I often fight feelings of inadequacy and feeling that I’m nothing but a burden. I think an understanding of each other’s difficulties and fears is the starting point for a balanced relationship. The key is effective communication.
It takes work, but with some forethought and planning, balance can be found. Start by recognizing each other’s concerns and feelings. Once they are recognized and understood try to find ways of dealing with them. That takes following some basic guidelines.
Prepare ahead of time
Know what you want to talk about. Don’t blindside each other. The relationship is important so set aside a time and place. Be aware of the other person’s situation. Perhaps they’re having a bad day. Trying to hold a serious conversation at the wrong time or place can make things worse.1-3
Be prepared. Write down what you want to share and how you’re going to say it. Words matter so think before speaking. Listen without interrupting. This isn’t a time to be judgmental or criticize.1-3
Know the facts so you can ask meaningful questions. Your caregiver isn’t alone. Almost a third of adults in the US are providing care for a family member.4
Understand the caregiver
Almost 1 in 3 caregivers provided 20 or more hours per week of care and over half have given care or assistance for 24 months or more.5
The American Psychological Association notes a multitude of problems caregivers face from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues to physical effects such as fatigue and sleep issues, as well as worries about family resources, finances, and job concerns.6
It doesn’t help that frequently caregivers often neglect their own health. Knowing the facts helps but asking directly about concerns works wonders!7
Be honest with yourself
What are my concerns? Don’t be afraid of sharing feelings and fears, it clarifies the situation. Honesty works wonders and I start with myself.1-3
Being brutally honest in my inner dialogue is essential. Lying to myself or trying to sugarcoat things is like trying to cheat at solitaire – pointless.
Don't place blame
I choose my own reactions. I don’t blame the other person for my emotions. Don’t say "you make me so (fill in emotion here)."
Try saying, "I feel (emotion) when you (action)." All feelings are valid. They are what they are. No matter what I feel and think, I don’t project them on the other person.1-3
Have patience! Don’t expect things to change instantly. I learned 2 important ship maneuvering concepts while in the Navy that also apply in relationships. The terms are advance and transfer and they refer to a ship changing course.
When the rudder is put over changing a ship’s direction the ship will continue to "advance" or move forward in the original direction. "Transfer" is the progress the ship makes towards the new course direction as the ship begins to turn.
In short, neither ships nor relationships turn on a dime. Relationships and ships that carry a lot of weight, tend to tilt dangerously when turned quickly. Patience and persistence are essential. It may not seem like it, but even as the relationship moves forward change will come about.
Put in the effort
Talking things over may not feel natural if you are used to keeping things in. Balancing a relationship may be hard, but it’s easier than letting it fester and toxic.
We put effort into the things we value. By putting in the time, effort, and patience into such an important relationship you can achieve a healthy and balanced relationship.
Do you participate in a support group for PD?