Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
As a therapist, I can’t count how many times during an average week a client begins a sentence like this: “If only my partner (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend) would …”
This is often followed by my client lamenting about how much better their attitude, their relationship, their life would be if only their partner said, felt, or did something differently. Notice those two key words: “if only.”
Now, if their partner is also living with a chronic condition, then the “if only” is often followed by wishes for better adherence to medication regimens or self-care. And concerns over what happens if they don’t take better care of themself. Along with feeling frustrated when their partner doesn’t listen to their warnings, scolding, or plain old begging. Yes, if only.
So, what about your partner? If he or she is living with a chronic condition, are they taking care of themself? Maybe even giving you some encouragement as well? Or do some days feel like an uphill slog while you manage your own health as well as try to encourage (or nag) your partner to do the same?
Here are seven ideas on how to support your nonadherent partner:
1. Be a role model. You’ve probably heard the one about the pot calling the kettle black. Before you point out the ways in which your partner needs to take better care of him or herself, make sure that you are doing a good job of managing your own chronic condition. Don’t be the best worst example of nonadherence. And while you’re taking all that good care of yourself, you might also occasionally mention to your partner how much better you feel for doing it.
2. Look for teachable moments. The long lectures get old after a while. You might instead be alert for moments when you can gently point out your partner’s lack of compliance. For example, if your partner is eating something not on his or her diet, you might remind them of how this can impact their health, and offer to help them prepare something healthier. Or, if you notice they have missed a dose of medicine, you can quietly remind them and ask if they would like you to help them remember.
3. Use some “patient” education. If you find yourself scolding your partner, or getting angry, or giving orders, you may also find that you’re not making a whole lot of progress. Instead, assume good intention on their part rather than a desire to cause you frustration and annoyance. Who knows? Your partner may get the overall concept of self-care but not be sure how to actually make it happen. How about asking if you can make a suggestion before you launch in with one? And then, focus on what they could have done and not what they didn’t do.
4. Get some guidance. Remind your partner that you are there for them and that you are a team. Ask what you can do to be more supportive.
5. Choose your battles. As you have probably learned already, when people feel pushed into doing something, they become more resistant. So if, out of your own feelings of helplessness, you are turning everything into a battle of wills, your partner may put up a wall. Be mindful of what is most important—like taking medication on schedule—versus what’s less important. Use your judgment here.
6. Enlist support. Do you have a friend or family member your partner would listen to who might be willing and able to give your partner some encouragement, or maybe even some tough love? You might ask for their help. Here’s another idea: See if your partner will allow you to accompany him or her to a doctor’s appointment, and have an honest discussion about what your partner needs and how you can help (be careful to make this about how to support your partner and not tattling).
7. Recognize where you don’t have control. Here’s the hardest one of all. When you love someone, you also want the best for them. But nobody likes to be told what to do—even if they probably need to be told what to do. Be a supporter, a cheerleader, and throw in some tough love when you need to. However, keep in mind that we are all the masters of our own destiny. Your partner has the right to make his or her own decisions about physical and mental health. Even if you feel in your heart they are making the wrong decision. Your partner has to want to be healthy and be willing to do the work; you can’t do it for them.
You and your nonadherent partner. Consistent, gentle encouragement wins the day.
How do you and your partner get along when it comes to managing chronic illness? Share your experiences and advice by adding a comment below.