Coping with a Partner's Serious Illness

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Listening to one another's feelings and taking them day by day – not allowing resentment to build up – is the way to handle things. Ideally, couples will discuss the "what ifs" of a life-threatening situation beforehand, but if that's not the case, then it's OK to broach the subject early in the illness to ensure that things go smoothly, no matter the outcome of the illness. Practical issues to consider are child care, power of attorney should the patient be unable to articulate his or her wishes, financial obligations such as money set aside for any children's education, and so on. When a woman in a heterosexual relationship is the one to get sick, it's common for her male partner to feel uncomfortable and out of place as the new caretaker. A 2009 study in the journal Cancer cited a much higher divorce rate for couples in which the woman sustained a serious illness. However, the study found that women were more likely to stay in the marriage when the man was the sick spouse. Regardless of who is sick, it's important to stay united against the illness, not each other.