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Looking after your relationship when you have a seriously ill child

Life doesn’t stop when your child is seriously ill and you still have other roles to play, including partner. Here are some tips to help you nourish your relationship when you have a seriously ill child.

When your taitamaiti / child is seriously ill, it feels like life is put on hold. Your entire focus, naturally, becomes your taitamaiti / child as you support them. But for most of us, life can’t really stop. We have whānau to care for, jobs to continue and relationships to maintain.

It’s so important when going through some of life’s toughest times, like serious illness, to lean on our loved ones for support. This is especially true when it comes to your partner if you have one. But how can you maintain and nourish this relationship  when so much of your time and energy is focused on your taitamaiti / child?

We’re not going to lie: this is really difficult to do. But having the support and love of your partner can help to make this time more bearable.

Here are some tips to help you look after your relationship when you have a seriously ill taitamaiti / child.

Remember you’re a team

When you’ve got a long-term partner, it’s so important to remember you’re a team. This means equally sharing the responsibilities. This normally looks like one of you being at the hōhipere / hospital with your taitamaiti / child and the other being at work and looking after other tamariki, whānau or pets. However you split the responsibilities, make sure it’s even.

Tackle challenges together

Throughout your child’s treatment journey, there will be plenty of challenges, decisions, questions and change. It’s normal to not always agree on what’s best for your taitamaiti / child. When you can’t decide what to do, problem-solve together. Work through the different solutions to find the one that works best for the whānau, rather than seeing it as one of you ‘winning’ and the other ‘losing’.

If you and your partner can’t agree what’s best for your taitamaiti / child and whānau, ask for support and advice from trusted whānau members, friends or professionals, like people in your child’s medical team.

Set aside time

Hōhipere / hospital stays. Work. Childcare. Chores. There are so many responsibilities you’re juggling right now. That’s why it’s all too easy to never spend any time with your partner. But if you’re never together, your emotional connection will struggle. Try to put some time in your calendar every single day to connect. It only needs to be about 10 minutes. Make sure you talk about how you’re both doing, rather than swapping medical updates. Or make a rule that you’ll always share a morning or evening hug or kiss, so you’ve got physical connection every day.

Be open

It’s normal to feel disconnected from your partner sometimes, especially during these stressful and emotional times. You’re both dealing with a lot and have probably changed. It’s really important that you’re open and honest about how you’re feeling. Try not to expect your partner to be a mind-reader – that’s a lot of pressure and expectation in an already pressure-filled time. Tell them what you’re feeling and what you need: what’s stressing you out? How are you feeling about your child’s diagnosis / treatment? What kind of support do you need right now?


As well as being honest about your feelings and needs, make sure you give your partner the opportunity to share too. Be direct: ask them how they’re coping and what they need. Take the time to really listen to what they’re saying, rather than jumping in with a way to fix the problem or sharing your opinion. You might find that their experience and ways of coping are very different to yours, but they’re still valid.

Say thank you

A little gratitude goes a long way right now. It’s really easy to feel like you’re being taken for granted – having a seriously ill taitamaiti / child is exhausting and relentless. But a simple thank you can make a big difference. Make sure it goes both ways and that you both thank each other, whether it’s for letting you sleep in one day or dropping off a pick-me-up snack at the hōhipere / hospital.

Look after yourself

You need to make sure that your basic needs are being met. Focus on getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking plenty of water and getting fresh air when you can. Being sleep deprived, hungry or thirsty can easily lead to being irritable and that’s no fun for anyone. Support your partner to do this too.

Expand your support network

Your partner has probably become your sounding board and shoulder to cry on and you’ll be jointly relying on each other to get you through. Although they’re your greatest support, your partner is struggling too. Give them a break sometimes and confide in your friends and whānau. They’ll want to help in any way they can.

Pay attention at certain times

Research* shows that the start and end of treatment is when couples usually feel the least connected. During these extra stressful times, make sure you keep talking and creating time for each other.

Get extra support

You’re going through a really challenging time and you might need some extra support, like therapy. You can either go alone or together. A professional can help you communicate and deal with stress more effectively, making you feel more connected.

*Katz, Lynn Fainsilber, Kaitlyn Fladeboe, Iris Lavi, Kevin King, Joy Kawamura, Debra Friedman, Bruce Compas, David Breiger, Liliana Lengua, Kyrill Gurtovenko and Stettler, Nicole. “Trajectories of Marital, Parent-Child and Sibling Conflict During Pediatric Cancer Treatment.” Health Psychology 37.8 (2018): 736-745. Psycnet.apa.org. Web. 11 Feb. 2019.