An illness can negatively impact a relationship, creating a lot of tension and stress. The one who is a patient may experience a lot of anger because he or she feels trapped and controlled by the disease. New limitations and restrictions have taken away the freedom to do the things he or she used to do. The disease has sapped the patient's energy so they don't feel like doing much. They may feel exhausted and weary doing the activities that he used to enjoy. Medication and appointments to the doctors now control his time and energy. They have to adjust from being independent to being somewhat dependent on others.
Then there is the financial stress and the frustration of the bills mounting up and trying to work with the hospital and insurance company, which may seem only interested in getting their money. They may feel guilty because his illness has changed their lives and strapped them financially. Anger and weariness are constant companions. Beneath the anger are the feelings of unfairness and powerlessness. Where does that anger go? Either they stuff it and feel depressed or unload on the one who is the caregiver. They become what some call "the prosecutor." They may feel that the caregiver is not doing enough for then. It is a situational anger.
The caregiver can become the prosecutor as well. They may feel the same things the patient is feeling. Feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated, it seems they never have time for themselves and are tired most of the time. Being tired most of the time leaves them with little patience. They may feel isolated and alone because they believe they're not getting enough support or understanding from family and friends. All this leaves them angry, so they take their anger out on their partner. They do this knowing that their loved one did not sign up for this disease. They find themselves feeling guilty over the anger clashes. It is a stressful and tiring time for both the caregiver and the patient.
When we find ourselves becoming the prosecutor, it would be helpful to disengage and remind ourselves that what we are feeling is situational anger. We can disengage by soothing ourselves with deep breathing, taking a walk, or calling a friend. It is helpful to remind ourselves, all feelings are acceptable but all behavior is not.
In the next few articles, we will be highlighting some ways to reduce the frustration, anger and stress. For now, we need to find ways to take care of ourselves. One way is reduce our sense of isolation by finding a support group. Within a group, we can find friendship as well as empathy and understanding that is hard to find among people who haven't shared our situation.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700