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By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Sunrise Ocean

Adapted photo: Pixabay[Sunrise Ocean Sea Coast by MartyNZ, November 7, 2015,CCO]

MFLN Family Development, Family Transitions, Nutrition and Wellness, and Military Caregiving teams presented the first part of a two-part series on chronic illness titled “Chronic Illness: Empowering Families in the Journey”. Dr. Mendenhall shared a wealth of knowledge on the topic including what stressors are associated with chronic illness and the ways in which this impacts the health and wellness of individuals and families. Additionally, he guided participants in exploring how families influence the health and well-being of each other and ways in which interdisciplinary collaboration among service professionals can enhance care for families and individuals impacted by chronic illness. Listed below are some of the conversations (in question/answer format) that took place during the webinar. We would love for you to continue in these conversations by adding your thoughts, ideas, questions, and strategies by commenting on this blog!


Q: What are some examples of the link between the health of a couple’s relationship and their individual physical health?
A: Participants provided the following responses:

  • Poor physical health may lead to stress, which can take a toll on their relationship, which can lead to further decline [in their] physical and emotional health.
  • Couples can support each other in managing illness, or work against each other.
  • I believe it takes energy to have a successful relationship … and if one of the partners is dealing with a chronic illness there may be limited energy to invest in the relationship.
  • More likely to prepare healthy meals when couples are doing well.
  • In diabetes, if the partner [has] a [helping] attitude  rather than adversarial relationship — it works much better.
  •  Physical fitness is better as a couple -bonding.

Q: Share your experiences and insights (related to working with families/ couples who are impacted by Chronic Illness)
A: Participants provided the following responses:

  •  I usually tell couples (one or both with diabetes) to check their blood glucose before an argument or serious discussion.
  • Learning to listen –is always a challenge.
  • My cousin and her long time husband decided on their honeymoon that MWF things were her “fault” and TTh and Sat it was “his fault” and Sunday was no ones’ fault. This stopped a lot of stupid arguments. They are still together after 20+ years.
  •  I had an elderly couple once and the lady would speak so eloquently about her husband and just how he would look at her as though they were just beginning to date and this was during their old age and illnesses. I will always remember that even in the worst of times, couples can still share beautiful experiences.
  •  From personal experience, I believe it is hard for other family members without disease or disability to really understand what the disabled individual is going through even though they see it and they are helpful as much as they can be. I have a brother who is disabled and it seems like other family members try to limit things that he does instead of empowering him and helping him to accomplish what he wants to do. [An] example is working on the farm. He is still able to do some of those things but my other brother tries to [leave him out] for his own convenience. It’s hard to see and hard to get through to him.
    • I encourage Veterans to try to reframe how they view spouse’s comments….. Instead of “hen pecking”, look at the encouragement to check BGs etc, view it as their way of saying I love you & want to spend many years together with you.

Q: What are other strategies for working with families struggling with chronic illness?
A: Participants provided the following responses:

  • I find it very important to point out to caregivers that their loved one’s decline is not a sign of failure. I attribute that to the disease process. I try to refocus them on comfort measures such as warm presence, light touch and managing symptoms all that are within their locus of control to help decrease their anxiety. It really boils down to control and sometimes caregivers focus on something they have no control over hence “The Serenity Prayer”. 
  • That is perhaps one of the most perplexing things about caregiving: The caregiver can do everything “right” and the situation not improve.
  •  Most of my clients are disabled due to pervasive mental illness so I try to offer them experiences that help them to understand what it may be like. For example I might wisper in an ear of the partner to help them understand voices and distractions. This promotes empathy.
  •  I help them to see all the positives vs. focusing on a few negatives. A lot of time, families have to see things one by one to believe that they are doing better than they think. As a former caregiver of my dad, it was helpful for me to remember all the good things that were going on vs. just his illness and going into depression. It would’ve been easy to do that. Development, success, seeing it differently-this process is hard work but the results are well worth it.

Don’t forget to check out part 2 of this webinar series here.

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the Social Media and Programming Coordination Specialist for the OneOp Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about OneOp Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.