The emotional stress of illness and recovery affects both transplant recipients and caregivers. It can change how people feel about themselves, each other and their relationship.
Some people develop a deeper appreciation for each other, and their bond gets even stronger. Others become frustrated or depressed about the changes in their relationship. Some partners might see their relationship differently. A transplant recipient might report a happy relationship, but the caregiver partner might be unhappy. A caregiver might be looking forward to “getting back to normal,” but the recipient might have a different vision for the future, based on new priorities.
Communicate with your partner
Good communication is essential to a healthy relationship. Be mindful to:
- Resolve conflicts and strengthen your connection by sharing your feelings with honesty and compassion.
- Keep the conversation positive. Focus on how you’d like things to be. Tell your partner what you like and appreciate about them and your relationship.
- Talk about the good and the bad but frame your conversation in way that focuses on solutions.
- Listen, do not interrupt, and confirm you are listening by saying phrases like, “Yes” and “I understand what you are saying.”
- Use “I” statements instead of “you.” Statements that start with “you” can put people on the defensive. Instead of “You make me feel …” say “I feel (name the emotion) when (name the behavior) and (state what you need to happen).” For example, “I feel hurt when I’m shouted at. It would be helpful if we could talk about our feelings calmly.”
- Describe your feelings without displaying anger, frustration or fear.
- Avoid blame by focusing on your own feelings and actions you can take.
Sometimes you might not be able to find the “right” words to share your feelings with your partner. It can be helpful to write down your feelings and use “I” statements. You can still show your partner how you feel through your actions by showing love, compassion, support and caring.
Support groups can be safe places to discuss relationship concerns with people who understand.
It may also help to talk one-on-one with another person who has been through transplant. We can connect you by phone or email with another transplant recipient or caregiver. Request a connection through the NMDP Peer Connect.
A professional counselor or therapist can also help you with difficult conversations, identify issues and suggest ways to solve problems.
Questions to help you and your partner talk about your relationship
- How is your communication? Has it changed?
- Do you feel like you understand each other?
- Do you feel emotionally close, or distant?
- How do you talk about and resolve conflicts?
- Do you share the same expectations about recovery?
- Do you share the same priorities?
- Do you share the same goals for the future?
- Have your roles changed? How do you feel about that?
- How have physical or emotional changes affected your relationship?
- How do you feel about your sexual intimacy? How might you want it to change?