Relationships, Part 60: When Illness Take Over: Create Illness-Free Zones.

If illness has taken over your relationship, there’s plenty that you can do, other than succumb to its evil yourself. Just because your boyfriend wants to get piss-drunk every time you go out, doesn’t mean you have to clean him up. Even if your girlfriend picks fights with everyone, doesn’t mean you have to make excuses for her. So your wife has MS and is bedridden, that doesn’t mean you have to be. Get out a little, be healthy, let your partner clean up his or her own mess. Create an Illness-Free Zone.

You can create an Illness-Free Zone in all kinds of places. If your wife is bedridden, the Illness-Free Zone can be the whole rest of the house. Remove all the machines, the medical supplies, the pills, all the stuff involved with the management of illness and confine it to just the spot where it needs to be. Redecorate the Illness-Free Zone to be an area of vitality. Put pictures on the walls and things that are involved with your other interests, activities other than caring for your sick wife. More importantly, keep those other interests. Go to your yoga class, play softball with the guys, stay connected with family as you would cling to a lifeline if someone handed it to you. Even more importantly, confine the attitudes of the illness to the sick room. Close the door on the hopelessness, the irritability, the dependence to where it has to be and don’t let it invade everywhere else.

If your sick, bedridden wife doesn’t want to be alone with the illness, confined to the room just as she is, then you’re very lucky. That’s a sign of health on her part, an indication that her whole personality has not been taken over by the illness. Create an Illness-Free Zone in her own sick room by removing all the medical objects you can off to the side, so that what she mostly sees are things associated with health.

Illness-Free Zones can be created in time as well as space. Play chess with her, watch shows together, let her take care of you however she can. Restrict actions related to care to certain necessary times of the day. Ban complaints of pain, grumblings about the doctor, screams of anguish to particular times when you ask how she feels. Lock up the illness, shove it in the basement, wrap it up in duct tape, and free the person.

If your ill partner is not a bedridden wife, you might have to be more inventive about establishing Illness-Free Zones. Alcoholic husbands, or angry, paranoid spouses tend to make messes and spread their illness everywhere they go. In that case, go somewhere they don’t go; somewhere they would never go. Most alcoholic husbands wouldn’t be caught dead at a tea party, so acquire a taste for having tea with your friends. Paranoid partners are apt to dislike therapists, so find a therapist and create a zone in that office where you can be yourself. If your husband drinks too much whenever you go out with him, don’t go out with him. He can go himself, while you go to your tea party. If your wife fights with your mother every time they get together, suggest doing something different for Thanksgiving.

Creating an Illness-Free Zone is really very easy, though it might take some imagination. It’s all about knowing the difference between sickness and health and drawing lines between them. It might look like a selfish thing to do, but it makes you a better caregiver and a more loving spouse. An Illness-Free Zone will ground you and nourish you so that you can better defeat the illness and maintain your relationship with the person you love.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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