The Challenge of Accepting My Partner’s Approach to Illness

Hi, Maude here. I’ve been facing some challenges to our usually very easy practice of total acceptance in this last period of time.

What is this issue that has been so difficult for me? Healthcare and how Phil and I differ on how to deal with illness. On the surface, this would seem like any other difference that we could just deal with by finding mutual solutions, by communicating our feelings, and by our easy trust of each other that leads to total acceptance.

But this hasn’t worked with this one, and it has brought up for me all kinds of feelings that are difficult and very charged.

Neither Phil or I have been sick very often. We have been blessed, but I also know that with maturing age, we will be facing this more and more.

When I am ill, I bring everything I know to bear to combat the problem. I get information if I don’t already have it, I apply all methods available to conquer the illness, boost my immune system, and get me back to functioning at top level. I have worked in healthcare from many angles and am reasonably well informed. I’m not saying I don’t allow my body to rest and recuperate, as I do, but I also work toward my health diligently.

When Phil is ill (sorry, couldn’t resist), he beds down to wait it out, grin and bear it, so to speak. He pretty much refuses to take anything or do much of anything. He greets suggestions with refusal and will growl about it being his body and pushes back quite strongly against any attempt to offer or push actions to better the situation.

Normally this would be a great example of how people (perhaps genders) handle issues differently and would be a perfect place to apply total acceptance, get out of the person’s way and just accept that they have a different way of doing things than I do.

Well, as I’ve said that didn’t work for me this time.

I had a very dear friend who had many symptoms of not being OK for a long time. His friends and family urged him to get checked, to do something, to check what was going on with him. He refused. And he kept refusing until at one point, the situation became so extreme that he had to be taken to the hospital. There it was found that he was in the end stage of a now fatal illness, one that would probably have been treatable at an earlier time. He fought it then for several years before he passed. I still feel so sad about this. I love him dearly, and I was also angry at him for a long time for not having done something while there was still time to alter the course of the illness. Angry that he was no longer there for me to laugh, love and spend time with. Angry that he abandoned his wife because of what appeared to me as stubbornness or fear.

Total acceptance is realizing what your partner does is not about you, but about who they are #quote Click To TweetAnd there is the crux of the matter. I was seeing these kinds of refusals to take care as abandonment. All kinds of things around this have come up for me with Phil’s latest illness and his way of dealing with it. I’ve got some heavy issues in this department, with both my parents having died suddenly and several other deep experiences of sudden loss.

As it turns out, this has been a profound learning experience for me. Somehow, while my love is lying here being ill, I was making this all about me. I was getting angry, feeling betrayed, left alone, not cared about etc. etc. etc. And this is where we can really come to understand what total acceptance is about.

It is about realizing that we are each separate and unique people, and what your partner does is not about you, but about who they are. When their actions have consequences for you, then it is important to communicate and to find ways to acknowledge each other’s needs and find mutual solutions, and to act with honor and respect toward each other. But total acceptance is just that. It is totally accepting the other person and trusting them. I am humbled by what this journey has taught me about just that.

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9 comments on “The Challenge of Accepting My Partner’s Approach to Illness
  1. This is very eloquent, about a situation that confronts just about everyone as we age or if we become injured. There are so many different perspectives about getting medical help. Several people in my life have died as a result of not going to a doctor timely. Others suffer what seems needlessly, to others. Everyone handles it differently, and acceptance is not that easy to arrive at, around this topic. When it impacts the partner or family, it becomes complicated, because why do others have to help a disabled person who is disabled by choice?

    • Maude says:

      Dear Kathy,
      Thank you for your comment. This is indeed a loaded and difficult issue as it does impinge on both parties to a relationship. The process of self-examination becomes ever more critical to handle such things, and it is so important that the partners find mutual solutions that truly honor both parties.

  2. Hi – interesting that I should read this now, when I’v been facing similar issues with what I define as ‘my problems’- which are so often, my attitude to other people’s problems!

    I took off my wedding ring for a day – and felt a lightening in my mood as soon as I did it – which was quite revealing to me. How come we so often use the idea of marriage and commitment to treat others less than well and to allow our own abusive attitudes to go unchallenged. I decided not to put my ring back on, until I had addressed my attitude. Didn’t take long, but that process somehow taught me a great deal.

    • Yes, Bonnie and I went through the same. She was like you and I am more like Phil. Is it a man thing. Bonnie was dilgent about doing all her yoga stretches etc for her back, taking meds, going to physical therapy, and just taking care of herself in general. She tried to get me to follow suit but I resist at every turn. Now that she’s gone I honor her by doing as much as I can.

      • Maude says:

        Hi George,
        Thank you for sharing your intimate journey! Yes,I do think it is to some degree a gender thing (as much as one can generalize) and at the same time the deeper issues of mutual solutions, and finding something that works for each partner must be looked at in these big life situations.

    • Maude says:

      Dear Fran,
      I deeply appreciate your honesty and self-examination! We really cannot solve issues within our relationships (any of them) unless we work on ourselves and learn about ourselves. So much of what we react to in a relationship is about our own problems and internal confusion.

  3. Annie says:

    Well, I am happy to read between the lines, while I hope that I read right, that Phil is well again.
    Yup, it is an important subject. I recently had a coaching client for ‘The Work of Byron Katie’, where this issue came up. Actually for the 2nd time. He felt so bothered by his wife not stopping to give advice. As I always draw on wisdom from Nonviolent Communication in my coaching as well, we then looked for what the partner’s needs might be by giving advice. Which led him to feel loved instead of angry.
    AND, after reading your great article it comes clear to me, that this is not just about what the sick one wants, nor about what I want (him to do for his benefit). There is a 3rd entity here. The “Baby”! As in the comforting, nourishing cradle that was born from the relationship.
    So this is where it is getting difficult. A conflict of interest arises. In light of my ‘cradle’ being threatened, how much can I relax into I accepting that the other is dealing with an illness in his/her way? And simply accept his/her way? Even support it. While all the while hoping, that they will take care of the ‘Baby’ too! Which, of course only becomes an issue when (possibly) dealing with a life threatening condition (not just a cold). If they do or don’t – it is a matter of trust & openness to communicate needs, of acceptance and letting them “do it their way”. The rest is in God’s hands. AND, once they are ill, it might be a given, that they “dance to their own music”, because that is their mode; or all they have energy for. Which then becomes part of the shared dance. Then again, those “thumbtacks” belong into God’s hands. Trust and Love, and diligence – SURRENDER to what is. I must write to my client about the “Baby”.

    • Phil says:

      Hi Annie, you’re making a great point that I think of in terms of identity. Western culture places great emphasis on the individual – we are our body, etc. But we actually identify with many larger groups: our sports team, our political affiliation, our family, our religion, our country, and when the group is injured, e.g. our sports team loses, we feel it personally.
      A relationship is just such a group, but we have to let go of our personal identity to recognize the baby, as you put it. This is where self-knowledge and non-attachment can let us escape that sense of personal self.

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