Fibromyalgia Couples make Good Communication Difficult due to their Illness

Fibromyalgia Couples make Good Communication Difficult due to their Illness

Improving Communication

The stresses brought by serious illness can make good communication difficult. To complicate matters, CFS and FM create the additional challenge of cognitive problems. Here are seven ideas for how to improve communication if you or your partner have CFS or FM.

Pick a Good Time and Setting

If you have something important to discuss with a significant person in your life, select a time when both of you will be at your best. It should be a time when both of you can give good attention and you will not be distracted by pain or brain fog, preferably during your best hours of the day. Choose a place that minimizes distractions and interruptions.

Practice Good Listening Skills

Good communication is based on each person understanding the other person’s views. Understanding begins with listening, which means focusing your attention on what is being said, with the goal of understanding the speaker’s point of view.

Listening works best if it occurs without interruption. After the person is finished speaking, respond by acknowledging having heard them. You might say something as simple as, “I understand.” If you are not clear, you can respond by asking for clarification or more information. You might say something like, “I’m not sure I understand. Can you say something more?”

From time to time, check whether you have understood the other person’s position by restating it in your own words. You could say, “Let me try to summarize what I’ve heard and you can tell me if I’m understanding you.”

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Focus on One Thing at a Time and Be Specific

Focus on one issue at a time. If you are requesting that the other person change, be specific in your request. Avoid making general requests such as, “I need help with the housework.”

The person being asked may wonder what would be involved in responding to the request. Instead, say something like, “Can you do a load of laundry today?” or “Can you do the grocery shopping?”

If you are the one being asked to do something, it’s reasonable to defer giving a yes or no answer until you are confident you understand what is expected of you. You can ask, “What specifically would you like me to do?” Even if you decide to decline, you can still acknowledge the importance of the request to the person asking for help.

Aim for Solutions

Have as your goal finding solutions, not blaming one another or finding fault. The idea is to be able to discuss problems in a constructive rather than a confrontational way. Treat each other with respect, acknowledging his or her support and effort. Avoid demeaning comments, sarcasm, and blaming. Acknowledge your part in shared problems and express appreciation for the other’s efforts.

Use Problem Solving

Use problem-solving to find solutions. Begin by brainstorming, which means thinking of a variety of possible ways to solve a problem. In brainstorming, the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible, without evaluating them.

For example, if your problem is how to do household chores when one member of the family is ill, alternatives might include dividing up the chores differently among members of the family, hiring occasional or regular assistance, simplifying tasks (for example, having simpler meals or cleaning less frequently), and moving to a smaller home that is easier to maintain.

Second, you evaluate each proposed solution, decide which ones are most promising, and try one or two of them. Third, after giving each solution a fair try, evaluate the results. Some potential remedies may not work, so you may need to have further discussions and try other solutions. The final solution may be a combination of several approaches. If several strategies are unsuccessful, you may decide that a problem may not be solvable or not solvable at the present time.

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Consider Getting Help

In many cases, you will be able to solve your problems yourself, but at times you may want to get help, either in understanding the causes of your problem or in finding solutions. So it may help to ask what resources are available to you. For example, to get a fresh perspective on your situation, you might ask other families how they have solved a similar problem or you might ask what community resources (church and public groups) are available.

Also, if conversations about your problems are not productive, you can consider getting professional help. A counselor can facilitate a solution to particular problems and also help you practice good problem-solving skills.

Have Regular Relationship Discussions

Finally, here’s a technique that one couple in our program uses to nurture their relationship and to solve problems in their lives: having regular discussions of their relationship. They set aside Sunday evenings as a time to discuss any issue that is on their minds, calling it their “talk night.”

Having regular discussions means that both husband and wife know that they have a forum in which to state problems and frustrations, and a means for finding solutions. Also, because the talks are frequent, they can refine their communication skills through regular practice.

The husband explains that “Anything either of us sees as a problem or causing stress is a likely topic. Even very minor things are OK.” Topics include an issue one has with the other, problems with friends or children, or problems around the house.

“A rule is we each openly listen to the other without being defensive. We problem-solve together to come up with a resolution for each issue. After doing talk night we start each week refreshed and with the feeling that comes from having dealt with whatever problems were there.”

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