What Can We Do In Our Relationship to Support Healing?
Burn injury to a spouse, significant other, or within a family can create strain on even the healthiest relationships. Without a doubt, the daily challenges of managing burn injuries impact the 'normal' household rhythms or 'normal' roles that we occupy.
So what can we do in our relationships to best support healing? Read some helpful strategies and characteristics of healing relationship offered by Megan Bronson, a board-certified psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist, consultant, and psychotherapist...
Characteristics of Healing Relationships
By Megan Bronson MSN, RN, CS
Healing relationships focus on creating a space where balance and harmony exist so that the healing process will be supported. Healing relationships recognize that the emotional and spiritual well-being of the people in the relationship are of paramount importance in the support of healing.
- Respect for the feelings, opinions, and viewpoints of each other
Each of you, both caregiver and burn patient, is likely to undergo different experiences and emotions, so being aware that these differences exist is a critical first step. Being empathetic to the very unique and personal experience of your spouse or partner is another key step.
- Respect for differences and diversity
Be mindful and respectful of each other’s diverse backgrounds, unique viewpoints, human foibles, or "place" in the healing process.
- Communication is direct and honest
Let's face it - we can't read each other's minds, so we need to do our best to share, and share honestly. Clearly state your point—and be kind. Brutal honesty does not foster a healthy relationship, and is based on creating hurt. Whereas honesty delivered with genuine caring and kindness may still hurt, but fosters the ability to heal and move forward with dignity.
- Conflict is dealt with in a timely and direct manner
Timing can be everything. Discussions should occur sooner than later because leaving issues unresolved may cause resentment or unnecessary anxiety. But, be considerate of when to deal with conflict – having a discussion while you’re still "hot under the collar" or while your spouse is giving the kids a bath doesn’t create an optimal setting for resolving conflict. Set up a time (schedule it if need be!) to discuss issues when you are both calm and do not have competing distractions.
- Feedback is given in a clear manner that focuses on behaviors, (shaming, blaming, and other forms of verbal/emotional abuse and control are not tolerated)
So what is good feedback when you experience conflict? Share what you encountered or experienced, factually and without exaggeration—and acknowledge what your loved one is experiencing, too. For example "I feel helpless and frustrated when you are angry and short tempered with me about your itching. I'm sorry your itching is so miserable."
- Boundaries are set and enforced appropriately on inappropriate behavior
Inappropriate behaviors in a relationship that should not be tolerated typically involve the 3 A’s: Adultery, Abuse (emotional or physical), or Addiction. If you are experiencing any of these behaviors in your relationship, you should seek professional help immediately. Consult with your physician, counselor, or seek a local helpline for assistance. If you suspect one of these issues is developing, immediately set a boundary—you deserve a healthy, respectful relationship that does not include anything on the spectrum of these behaviors. And again, don't hesitate to seek professional help.
- Responsibility and accountability are encouraged and fostered
It helps to recognize when caregivers are shouldering new or increased responsibilities. Saying 'thank you' goes a long, long way. It is also important to delegate responsibilities as appropriate - and recognize when someone is capable and ready to shoulder new responsibilities. These newly aquired or reaquired responsibilities can be significant milestones in healing and restoring self-esteem for burn survivors.
- A healthy level of commitment to the betterment of both parties is expected and fostered
Don’t hesitate to remind each other that “we can get through this—together.” By reinforcing your commitment to each other, being dependable, and working together on next steps, (or even envisioning future goals together), you are jointly creating an environment where healing can best occur.
- Both people and their needs are of equal importance
In a healing relationship it is normal for the burn-injured partner to receive a lot of the focus, energy, and attention, but remember, the caregiver needs care, too. Take time to recognize that each person needs time for personal care, whether it's some private space, time away, dinner with friends, or time for date night for both of you!
- Healing relationships operate from a position of trust
Trust may be defined as “a firm belief or assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone; one in which confidence is placed.” In healing relationships, trust comes from a deep-rooted reliance that our loved ones will "be there" for us both physically and emotionally.
- Joint problem solving is the norm. Both parties strive to find win-win solutions
Both partners need to be willing and open to solving problems effectively. In the initial phases of a burn injury, the caregiver may find themselves in a role of solving problems alone. But as recovery occurs, more input and decision-making will need to be considered from the burn-injured partner, and this transition can be scary or even contentious. The reality is that solutions are almost never an exact 50/50 split, and problem solving certainly doesn’t work if you have the intention to be the winner at all costs. Rather, it means you are each willing to offer up your best behaviors, considerations, and efforts to solve problems in a way that you both can agree and live with the decision. Then genuinely move forward and live with it. (No resentment allowed).
- Competition is avoided
Healing isn’t a contest. In relationships, and in particular healing relationships, competition is best left in a sports arena. Loving partners should not be trying to “one-up” or “better” the other. A healing relationship allows for our true selves to be present in a safe place where we can be accepted and loved—flaws and all. This safe place allows us to focus our energy on strategies for getting well and finding a healthy future together.
Need to talk to someone who's been there? Contact us and ask for a Phoenix SOAR peer supporter.