The impact on your relationship with your spouse/partner

“Immediately you get split up. I stayed in hospital and my husband was at home with his sister. And you don’t get phone signal in the hospital. There’s no communication and one minute life is normal and the next it’s completely different.”

Parents can experience a range of different emotions following their child’s injury and often these experiences are temporary. However, half of the parents involved in the development of this website said that they had never spoken to their partner about their child’s injury.

“We’ve never gone through that day; we’ve never re-lived it in any way whatsoever.”

This might be because they don’t want to cause more upset or because they feel guilty or ashamed. These feelings can stop parents from seeking support when they need it and can put an additional strain on relationships.

As well as the emotional upset caused by the injury, there can also be changes to the practical aspects of your relationship. There can be changes to your usual roles and responsibilities, how and when you interact, and also how you communicate with one another.

Roles and responsibilities

You might have noticed that your child’s injury temporarily changed, or has changed, the quality of your relationship, your role within it, your responsibilities, and level of support.

“In and out of hospital and what seemed like constant follow up appointments. It was also really difficult trying to hold down our jobs and also look after both our children.”

Although many difficulties are temporary, your child’s injury might have meant that other problems came to the surface. Changes in responsibilities that are often shared by parents to different degrees can generate feelings of guilt, fear, or frustration. Some parents can find that this worsens existing cracks in their relationship, but others may find that the experience brings them closer together. Often, but not always, the primary responsibility for care and decision-making is taken on by mothers and this can also be a source of stress within the family system.

“Negotiating the shared workload and support of our child after it happened, I found, were both tension areas.”

Isolation

Parents can feel isolated when their child is in hospital. Within our research, the hospital environment was described by parents as like a ‘bubble’ or a ‘cocoon’, leaving them ‘cut off from the outside world’. Some parents continued to feel this way when they returned home. You might have felt, or continue to feel, as if you are the only person that has ever felt this way. Communicating with others about how you feel can be very important.

“I felt like I was the only person that felt like this. You feel like you’re the only person it has ever happened to.”

Communication

Feeling heard and understood helps to develop and maintain trust and a caring relationship between people. Generally, when we feel heard, we are less angry, less stressed, and more open to managing problems than when we feel unheard or misunderstood.

“I can remember having a fight with my husband about all of the many hazards in our house and he was trying to reassure me, but I just went crazy because he didn’t get it.”

Good communication is a two-way process between the person sending a message and the person receiving it. When communication is successful, information regarding how we feel or what we think is sent clearly and accurately, and it is understood.

Many things can get in the way of good communication. For example, poor mobile phone signal in the hospital. However, there are also things that we do that don’t help. Click on the tiles below to read about the four most common issues that get in the way of good communication and how active listening can help:

1. Making assumptions

  • Assuming that we know what others are thinking
  • Assuming that other people know what we are thinking
  • Assuming that we know what is right for others

2. Poor listening

  • Focusing on what we want to say while others are talking, instead of listening to them

3. Deflecting

  • Bringing up other problems and issues unrelated to what is happening in the moment

4. Telling someone, or being told, not to feel something

  • We may want someone not to feel a certain way about something and often say, ‘don’t worry about X’ or ‘don’t feel guilty’, but that is not within our power to achieve. When we say those things, we invalidate their feelings and can make them feel worse without meaning to. It is a common part of communication but, more often than not, it produces an undesired effect.

All of these things either stop us from sending a clear message or keep us from receiving the message that the other person is trying to send. Communicating well takes practice and effort. It is not something that comes naturally for most of us, particularly at times of heightened stress.

During times of stress, it is natural for conflicts to arise because it is impossible for everyone’s needs to be met all of the time. Compromise does not mean that there is a winner and a loser. Rather, a solution has been found during a challenging situation.

In order for one person not to feel as though they are losing out, all parties need good communication skills so that everyone’s point of view and suggestions are expressed clearly and heard by others. The active listening technique can assist with good communication.

This way of listening lets people know that you are trying to understand what they are communicating. Your body language should show them that you are interested and listening. As with anything new, this might seem strange at first, but with practise, it will start to feel more natural.

- Make eye contact, turn your body towards them, and nod as they are talking

All of these things let them know that you are listening. If you can, stop what you are doing so that you are not distracted. Or, you can tell them that you will be better able to listen once you have finished what you are doing.

- Listen to what they say, paying attention to the words that they use, and the feelings behind the words

When they have finished talking, paraphrase back to them what you heard them saying, for example “What I am hearing from you is...” or “It sounds like...was very upsetting for you.”

- Try not to offer advice.

When we offer advice, especially if it was not asked for, this can shut communication down.

You might be surprised at how your conversations and relationship changes when the focus is on listening to each other, rather than thinking of your next response.

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