A Boyfriend’s Story
Spending the past 18 months in a caregiver capacity for a girlfriend has definitely provided me with an understanding of the commitment involved in this critical role. Though the reality of witnessing the person you love suffer in constant pain on a day in and day out basis is draining, the experience has also taught me a little about myself along the way. What started with instant chemistry and a 9-hour first date quickly evolved toward a text message from her that made my heart race with confusion (“I have something I need to tell you”) and a heart-wrenching explanation that the woman I was falling in love with suffers from a chronic facial pain disorder. Though accepting the role of caregiver was a no-brainer, the truth is that was the easy part. Looking back, the responsibility is nearly impossible to fully prepare for. From casual dates to extensive brain surgeries, here are a few points to help maintain a healthy and progressing relationship through the difficult journey of caring for a loved one who suffers from chronic facial pain.
1) Become well-versed on the specific condition that your significant other is dealing with
In addition to learning what you can from your significant other, make it a point to do research on your own, listen during doctor’s appointments, etc. While it is unnecessary to become an expert on facial pain, baseline knowledge of the intricacies that go along with their condition can only help.
2) Familiarize yourself with medications and possible side-effects
There will be times when you will need to be as disciplined about what medications should be taken and on what schedule as your partner. Also, be aware of the emotional and mental side effects some medications can have. What your significant other is going through may cause them to act unusual at times, but sometimes there are pharmaceutical explanations for mood changes or swings.
3) Pay attention during doctor’s appointments and hospital visits
In addition to listening, also make it a point to ask your own questions and get clarity on certain topics that you may be unclear about.
4) Be thick-skinned
The person who you’re caring for in most cases will never believe you truly “understand” what they are going through and consequently the exchanges won’t always be pleasant. The important thing to remember is to try not to take it personally. Human nature is to think that he/she is the last person who should be rude or dissatisfied given the support that you are trying to provide. It is your responsibility as the caregiver to never underestimate the value and need of our role. Maintaining open lines of communication will remain a necessity.
5) Make time for yourself
As trapped as the sufferer may feel in dealing with his/her condition, it is also very realistic for the caregiver to feel trapped or overwhelmed if personal time is greatly neglected. Be sure to find outlets for yourself; this will assist with your physical endurance as well as your mental and emotional endurance. Regardless of the outlet you choose, know that it is good for BOTH of you.
6) Don’t be afraid to discuss relationship-based topics/concerns
The natural thing to do is put certain feelings aside because you don’t want to pile on unnecessary conversations when your partner already isn’t feeling well. This will only put the relationship in jeopardy unnecessarily. Keep the relationship a priority – the better the communication and growth between the two of you during the difficult times, the more likely that the relationship will succeed.
7) Make an effort to continue doing normal relationship things
While the pain will undoubtedly cause some things to be cancelled or rescheduled throughout the course of the relationship, don’t allow it to take control of your relationship. Whether it’s dinner and dancing, a day trip to the ocean, or even sexual intercourse, keeping relationship behaviors as normal as possible despite the circumstances will go a long way to providing a fulfilling relationship for both partners.
8) Find small ways to bring smiles
As you know, for someone suffering from chronic facial pain, the bad times unfortunately outweigh the good times in many cases. As the caregiver, our responsibility goes beyond just administering medicine or preparing meals. Whether it’s a quick joke, a random quirky facial expression, or just a gentle hand placed on just the right spot, the goal is to help your partner smile when the times get toughest!