THE RELATIONSHIP TOOL

WHY IT MATTERS

When we come into the world as infants, we are dependent on relationships to survive. From the beginning, our primary caregivers have the ability to loan us their calmness or pass on their anxiety.

What does a healthy relationship look like? Truthfully, it’s different for all of us, but a healthy relationship is often considered to be safe, secure and – especially when living with disease or disability – supportive.

We know that social engagement is our innate human response to stressful times. When a young child is unsure whether or not a situation is safe, they turn to their parent or caregiver for direction – reading their face, listening to their voice, looking for signs that tell them how to respond.

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If relationships are so important, why are they so hard?

When we are living with any kind of medical condition, things can be stressful. That stress can make us push people away – but these relationships are important because we need others to help us not only manage our physical care, but also help us deal with the emotions we’re feeling. Fear, isolation, sadness, frustration – it’s a lot!

Here’s an example of what life might look like for an individual with a disease or disability on an average day…

  • A reminder pops up on his phone that next week he has a doctor’s appointment
  • This triggers a feeling of fear as his mind starts to race through the possibilities of test results, conversations with the doctor, medications, etc.
  • Shortly thereafter, his mom calls to check on arrangements for the upcoming appointment
  • These questions heighten his stress and he responds to his mom with a harsh voice and lack of patience
  • His mom feels his anger and becomes upset; his fear has pushed her away
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The individual with the disease/disability in the above example did not identify and communicate his emotion of fear to his loved one, and as a result compromised his support system.

Here’s the kicker – this is a two-way street. The loved one is also experiencing emotional stress that might strain relationships.

Here’s an example of what life might look like for the loved one of an individual with a disease or disability on an average day...

  • She joins her son at a doctor’s appointment to hear the results of a recent medical test
  • This triggers a feeling of fear as her mind starts to race through the possibilities of the appointment outcome and what it might mean for her family’s future
  • After getting the results, her son begins to question the need for the recommended medical treatment
  • These questions heighten her fear and she snaps at her son to just do what the doctor says
  • Her son feels her anger and becomes upset; her fear has pushed him away

ASK YOURSELF

  1. As the INDIVIDUAL with a disease/disability, are you aware of your own emotions?

  2. Do you think your loved one recognizes your fears and frustrations about your condition?

  3. Do you recognize your loved one’s fears and frustrations about your medical condition?

  1. As the LOVED ONE, are you aware of your own emotions?

  2. Do you think your loved one recognizes your stress over the situation, as well?

  3. Do you recognize your loved one’s fear and frustrations about their medical condition?

Being in tune with our own emotions is hard enough. Recognizing that of another is even harder. Yet we know that both of these are critical for maintaining a healthy relationship while dealing with the stress of disease/disability.

But, there are ways to do this…