ASK ABDI: HOW TO CARE FOR MYSELF WHILE CARING FOR MY PARTNER?
QUESTION: In the chapter “Shift Happens with Intent” from your book, Shadows on the Path, you state the most common reactions you encounter as a healer is when a person is confronted with a deep need to change and a genuine concern about upsetting their partner’s life.
My partner and I have been together for many years, but the last several years we have been dealing with health issues of my partner. He has used the term "checked out". He is letting the negative path take over. He tells me that not knowing the outcome or that he can’t control the outcome wears him down. He is an optimistic and athletically fit person and feels he can’t get a break. The doctors say you have to let time heal. We are not fighting, still laugh at times, enjoy sex, and cuddle. But he feels like he is wilting and I am blooming. He supports me in many ways, but at this time he does not recognize this.
I gave the book to him one week ago. We have not spoken for two weeks, and the plan is to talk again in one month. I wish I found this book six months ago, since we have been talking about breaking up during this time. But the book hit the spot. Either we part or will stay together and get married. He says he needs to find himself and be more of the person he was before the health issues, so I hope he is reading the book. I see him as the person before the health issues.
I, in turn, have become somewhat of the caretaker. So I know where I need work. Is the time apart a good start? I will stick to it for one month and then the critical conversations will really begin or end.
ANSWER: You sound clear in what you describe. Yes, a genuine concern for one’s partner is a common (and healthy) reaction in times of deep change. It can also be a way that one consciously or unconsciously shirks one’s responsibilities towards self by focusing on the other. Your partner sounds like he is really suffering, it is not easy to be dealing with so much pain back to back. For either one of you. You spend most of your writing talking about him, put an equal amount of attention on yourself. I am glad that you are aware of your caretaking issue and are putting the focus on yourself. Self-care is all one can do at all times, but it certainly is an art to discharge that duty with grace. We can either get lost in caretaking or the other side, which is narcissistic self-indulgence.
It is also really difficult to be in the unknown, which is exactly where you are. Will you end up with this man, alone, or another? Stay here until the answer hits you on the head like a lightning bolt or gently comes your way like a limb that is gaining feeling from falling asleep. The tendency at this juncture is to jump to one side of a "yes” or “no", so that one does not feel the anxiety of not knowing. Your line ”either we part or will stay together and get married” sets up an either/or situation, which can lead to addictive thinking i.e. "yes” or “no". Relationships are so many layers of gray, especially made so in these times of accelerated growth and self-questioning. Be gentle with yourself and watch out for the black and white - that will only lead to more pain and confusion.
A part of you knew that you needed some time away from each other, and you set that up. That is brave on both of your parts. Use this time to be fully in relationship with yourself, cease for the next weeks behaviors that numb you to your self (overwork, caretaking, too much reading, music, TV, etc.), and really connect with your inner voice. Once you can hear that, there are no wrong turns. If you don’t have a regular daily grounding practice, the time to start is now.