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When Your Partner Resists Your Health Care Advice

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What can you do when your partner resists your advice?

This question was put to me at a recent Leukemia and Lymphoma Society conference I attended as guest speaker. The person asking the question was the wife and the advice resister was her husband who had cancer. Her question implied that more often it is the male partner who is reluctant to take advice. Many of the women members of the audience nodded with knowing smiles when she asked her question.

As a very stubborn and advice-resisting ill partner myself, I can't say if this issue is gender-specific. But I do know it's an issue most couples dealing with illness face, more than once.

When Richard tries to problem solve for me or offer suggestions for approaches I might try to reduce a pain spike, the bar on my resito-meter starts rising. I feel that I am coping as well as I possibly can, and who is he to suggest I might cope better!

He is my loving husband who hates to see me suffer, that's who he is. But in that moment of advice giving, he becomes my evaluator; his recommendation becomes a critique. Why? Because I'm in a weakened state and my normal adult processing abilities have gone walk-about. I am vulnerable and afraid, and somewhat adolescent, if not toddler-ish.

He has learned (and in my more adult state I have been able to advise him) to preface his suggestions with a statement that recognizes my strengths and then to leave them on the table for me to consider in my own good time. He might say, "I see you are hurting. I imagine you've been trying all the meditation techniques you've learned. Might going for a walk with me help distract you?"

You'd think that an invitation to a walk with my sweetie wouldn't be offensive. But again, when I'm in my anti-pain protective mode, any suggestion is an intrusion into my carefully constructed set of shields. This approach (recognize what I am doing and leave your suggestion on the table for me to consider) for giving advice is tolerable.

I offered two suggestions to the woman in the audience who asked what to do when your partner resists your advice:

  1. Enlist allies. Find the person your husband tends to listen to. It could be a brother, sister, friend, cousin, parent. Ask that person to make your recommendation to your husband. Sometimes it is easier for your partner to hear advice from someone who is not so intimately involved with him and the illness. And hearing the advice from more than one source can also be persuasive.
  2. Don't attach to your suggestions. Attaching to getting your partner to do what you believe is best will only lead to a struggle, which only leads to greater resistance. Make your suggestion, prefaced by appreciation for what he is already doing; ask him if he understands; ask him to please consider it and then walk away. Walking away from your suggestion, leaving it behind on the table like an interesting objet d'art, neutralizes the dynamic around the suggestion. There is no struggle. Either he wants to buy it or not. And chances are, even if he does not accept the advice now, it will continue to seep into his thinking and he may act on it at another time.

It is so hard to be powerless to make your sweetie take care of himself in the way you believe is best. What approaches have you found helpful in this situation?

This post originally appeared on Barbara's blog, In Sickness as in Health: helping couples cope with illness, on May 20, 2014.

More Blog Posts by Barbara Kivowitz

author bio

Barbara Kivowitz is senior partner of im21: innovation/measurement/21st century, a consulting group that helps organizations work more collaboratively. Her most recent project is in Vermont, helping to implement their statewide health reform initiative. She is on the board of trustees of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and on the board of overseers of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She and her co-author, Roanne Weisman, wrote In Sickness as in Health: Helping Couples Cope With the Complexities of Illness (Roundtree Press, 2013), a practical guide for couples dealing with illness. She writes regularly on her blog and you can find her on Twitter at @bkivowitz.


Tags for this article:
Caregiving   Relationships/Social Support   Make Good Treatment Decisions  


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