You enjoyed a close and loving relationship with a fully functioning and stable partner. Then your partner suffered injuries in an accident and has a long recovery ahead. Your partner will be left with chronic pain and disability and will lose much of their income earning potential. Your dreams and plans together have been wrecked, and your relationship is at risk.
Your partner becomes short tempered, often taking it out on you. Trips to the shops end in arguments about leaving early due to pain. You can’t remember when you last went to the movies. Your bills are piling up and the claim is taking a long time, and you have no ideas how much you’ll recover.
Sadly, I have seen this occur often, and many relationships fail to withstand this stress.
What can you do, as the uninjured partner, to help both of you?
Three areas will be discussed – communication, understanding and patience. I will then discuss some practical steps for coping.
You can do the most good by getting your partner to openly discuss what they are going through and together make new plans for the future. You should be very sensitive to how they are going. For example, if you are at the shops and you really want to grab a few more things but you notice your partner is struggling – offer to go home early. If you just ask them if they are right to go on they will likely say “it’s fine” and potentially just make things worse. Another option is to agree up front on how long you will go out for.
Communication will help you both through the recovery process. Try and go to important doctor’s appointments with them – often the injured person will not remember to tell the doctor all of their impacts, especially emotional well being issues.
If you are both struggling, see your GP for a referral to trauma / relationship counselling. A few hours with an expert can save a lot of grief later.
Many injuries are not visible. It is easy to be sympathetic to the poor person with a broken arm / leg while it is in a cast. It is much harder where you no longer see the injury.
A soft tissue neck strain, for example, can lead to chronic pain, acute pain flare ups from static activity and blistering headaches. The injured person will have little radiology evidence of an injury and hear from specialists there is nothing wrong permanently with them. How would you feel being told it is in your head or not real, being suspected of exaggeration?
Understanding that some injuries will not recover in 4-6 weeks, but could be permanent, is always a challenge.
When money is tight, and you want to encourage your partner to get up and outside, or look for work, that could be the right thing to do. An injured worker who can get back into the workforce is likely to have a quicker recovery. However, getting back early and doing things the doctor does not recommend could make it worse.
For example, a back strain injury with discal damage needs careful return to work planning – going back too soon too hard could severely aggravate the injury.
You should also consider their mental capacity. This includes your partner’s fear of their performance in the workplace, fear of retribution from employer, ability to manage employment and home life, or self-perception if their workplace performance has changed.
You will need patience to help cope with a long-term recovery and the claims process. You will need patience to not crack yourself when your partner has. You will need patience with your family and friends who also need your attention.
Some things to do
Educate yourself on their injuries and recovery plan.
Support your partner with their claim / treatment regime.
Be attune to how your partner is coping, especially with any mental coping issues. Encourage them to speak to you openly about this or see your GP together.
Your life may have changed and there is no going back – to stop looking at the past, create new plans together. You don’t need to go away for a long time just to get some benefit from a short break / change of scenery. Head somewhere close and do something together.
Seek counselling for tough times, or even better, before it gets too tough.
Elizabeth Archer-Trew, psychologist, kindly assisted me with a review of this post (any errors are mine!). She has many years of experience helping both injured people and their partners through this journey.
She can be contacted at:
D App Sc (C&HS); B Sc (Psych), PGDip Psych
AHPRA PSY0000981884 / Assoc MAPS
The Coomera Clinic
10 Jowett Street
Coomera Qld 4209
Ph: 5655 6170
Fax: 5676 6781
Mob: 0402 727 017
And visiting rooms at:-
Miami Business Centre
2190 Gold Coast Highway
Miami Qld 4220
Disclaimer – This article is designed to share knowledge and should not be relied upon as legal advice.