The Art of Compromise
For many people, what begins as a romantic attraction leads to a long-term or lifelong relationship. Plenty of us have heard—or uttered—the words, “Let’s get married.” But wise souls who have weathered any kind of long-term relationship might suggest a slight rephrasing. Does “Let’s get compromised” ring true with anyone? It’s no secret that successful relationships, romantic and otherwise, require giving, flexing and adapting in order to get along over the long haul.
Changing places No question about it, Parkinson’s is life-changing. When a partner has Parkinson’s, a relationship can become an even greater challenge—for both of you. In all likelihood, you’ll each need to give up, or take on, new roles and responsibilities.
(And you thought you were already compromising!) Although you might assume it’s more work to take on an extra activity like cooking, giving up such activities is typically more difficult from a psychological point of view. That’s because giving things up can represent a loss of independence.
And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
More often though, both partners will experience resentment, anger and sadness about having to trade places.
These frustrations can come out in a variety of ways.
For example, the relinquishing individual might find ways to criticize the way a job is done by the one who has taken on the new role. Driving provides a good illustration.
Driving roles often shift when a progressive illness strikes.
The challenge of having a new primary driver—and a new backseat driver!—is a formula for endless conflict. To add insult to an already challenging situation, the “new” driver (or cook or carpenter or cleaner) might need to learn or relearn a skill in the presence of the more experienced partner.
Sometimes circumstances dictate that a non-working partner go to work when the other is no longer capable. In this and other instances of role reversal, both individuals are likely to experience a range of emotions.
It’s debatable which is more stressful—the loss or the gain. But most important is how you deal with it.
Making it work Whether you’re a person with Parkinson’s or that person’s partner, family member or trusted friend who plays a caregiver role, here are some things to keep in mind: • Keep talking about these changes, with each honestly and openly listening to how the other is reacting to the changes. Schedule 10 minutes a day—every day—just to check in with each other. You are entitled to be angry, sad or anxious—and so is your caregiver. Don’t necessarily try to “fix” each other’s feelings, but do acknowledge them.
• Imagine how people feel having to give up tasks that have always been theirs, or to take on tasks that have always been someone else’s—for example, cleaning, making repairs, laundry and mowing the lawn. These tasks might have been very important to that person, and their loss might elicit feelings of not being a “good provider.” Again, don’t make it your goal to “correct” the feelings expressed—simply empathize.
• Remember, partners give to each other in a variety of ways. If you can no longer manage the lawn mower, you might help in other ways, such as taking on a task you can manage and putting more effort into sharing gratitude and affection with your partner. Try to make a loss into a gain.
• Prioritize. When you have limited energy and everything is harder, agree on what’s most important. You would be amazed how commonly people with Parkinson’s exhaust themselves cleaning the house each day, then find themselves too tired to take part in activities they truly enjoy. Make time for what’s important.
• The caregiver in the relationship needs some time alone, away from caregiving responsibilities. If you’re a caregiver, be sure to ask for help from family, friends or neighbors when you need a break.
• Keep in mind that pessimism “weighs” more than optimism. That is, each negative comment made about a partner takes about five positive comments to balance. Don’t get in debt.
• Above all, use your sense of humor. Whether it’s you or your loved one who has Parkinson’s, the disease will no doubt mean unwelcome changes to your life. But try to find the things in life you can laugh about, and then laugh about those things together as often as possible!
Author: Jeff Shaw is neuropsychologist at the Booth Gardner Parkinson’s Care Center. Barbara Bisio is an intern at the Center and a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University.