Our interactions with others can be and often are one of the most stressful, difficult, and painful areas of our lives. That is especially true for those of us living with a chronic illness for lots of reasons. We may feel guilty because we can’t do what we think is “our fair share.” We often have additional needs that healthy people don’t. And if we have pain, resentment, or other illness-related negative emotions, they can creep into our interactions and communications and make things even more stressful, difficult, and painful than they already are.
It may feel like some relationships with important people in our lives are so painful and trying that they’ll never get any better. While that may be true, I have learned, from helping many of my clients improve their relationships and also from dealing with problematic ones in my own life, that damaged or broken relationships can be mended restored even when that doesn’t seem possible.
That is good news, especially for us, because we are often more dependent on others for both physical and emotional support than people who are healthy are. What’s even better news is the fact that sometimes all it takes to greatly improve a difficult relationship is to ask the other person for what you want and need.
Asking for what you want and need can be scary and difficult; difficult because because if you don’t do it correctly, it’s very likely that you won’t get the response you want and scary because even if you do do it correctly they still may say no . But it’s also very possible that the result will be better than you could have imagined.
That’s what happened for a client I’ll call Sally. She contacted me to help her find better ways to live with Crohn’s disease. But it soon became very clear that one of the biggest stressors in her life was her marriage. Her husband had stopped being demonstrative and affectionate, and she told me she was dying inside.
For reasons that would take too long to explain in this post, she wasn’t able have a conversation with him and tell him how she felt. With some coaching, the approach she decided to use was to write her husband a letter telling him what she told me: that she was dying inside.
In the letter, she didn’t blame him, she didn’t plead with him, and she didn’t implicitly threaten him by telling him that she divorced her first husband because of a lack of love and affection. She just told him she was dying inside and that she needed to feel loved. And she put the letter in a place she knew he couldn’t miss it: she pinned it to his pillow.
Since Sally wrote and delivered that letter, her marriage has improved dramatically. Her health has gotten better too. And she is continuing to work on and improve both.
One more example: a friend I’ll call Robert was in a long distance relationship and was finding that telephone conversations had become boring and unsatisfying. He began to feel more and more emotionally distant from his girlfriend, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Finally, after several weeks, it occurred to him that he could forthrightly tell her he wanted deeper, more meaningful conversations – and he did! Not surprisingly, the conversations became enjoyable and satisfying and he again felt close to her.
It may seem strange that a person could overlook such an obvious solution, but all of us do. So if you’re having a difficult time with someone in your life, chances are good that you can make things a lot better by asking yourself if you’ve asked for what you want and need, and if you haven’t, doing so.