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Changes in family dynamics

Your illness may change the relationships you have with your family members. Some will become stronger, while others may become strained. In most cases, the best way to approach difficult changes is to talk about them.

On this page:

Your partner

The stress of an uncertain future and the difficulties of your illness may put a strain on your relationship with your partner. This often happens when a partner starts to care for a loved one without having time to deal with the impact of the diagnosis. At first, they may find it difficult to face up to the reality of your illness.

Sometimes the strain of caring for a loved one can lead a partner to become overprotective or appear controlling. As your illness progresses, you will both go through a period of adjustment  ̶  you may have to rely on your partner more for practical help, while they may be taking on new caring responsibilities.

If your relationship starts to change for the worse, try and talk about what you’re feeling. If this proves too difficult, you may want to speak to family or friends separately. Sometimes talking to a counsellor can help, either separately or as a couple. There is an online counselling directory   that will help you find someone nearby to talk to. Alternatively you can ask your doctor to refer you to a counsellor.

It’s important to acknowledge that the change in your relationship can also be positive. Your illness, and the difficulties you face, may draw you and your partner closer together. Other couples simply continue as they were before the illness.

Your children or grandchildren

If you have children or grandchildren, you may be particularly worried about telling them about your illness and how that will affect your relationship.   

If you have adult children or grandchildren, they might start to care for you, leading to a role reversal. This can be difficult so try to talk openly about your worries and needs. Talk to them about what you’re comfortable with them doing for you.

Younger children and teenagers can react in many different ways. They may become overly clingy, distant because they feel angry or guilty that in some way they caused your illness. They may also want to take on a more adult role and responsibilities within your home.

To help you deal with these changes, try to encourage your children or grandchildren to ask questions. Also let them know that it’s ok for them to talk to you about their feelings and fears.

Your parents or siblings

The relationships that people have with their parents and siblings are unique and often complex. Some families are very close, while others are not.

Whatever your situation, your illness will almost certainly have an impact on your relationships with your parents and siblings. Like your partner, they may become overprotective, distance themselves from you or carry on as normal.

As always, communication is important. When you feel up to it, try to talk to them about your illness, any problems that may have arisen and how you’re feeling. This is usually the best way to handle any changes to family dynamics.

Paola’s story – Talking to my children

External websites

Counselling Directory   – find a counsellor or psychotherapist near you

Relate   – specialist relationship counsellors

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