Effects of An Amputation on a Partnership – Partner Perspective
by Amber Henson, on Aug 17, 2020
When something happens that results in the loss of a limb – an accident, cancer or something else – to one person of a partnership, the patient has a difficult road ahead of them. But the partner, spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend needs to understand that their journey may be difficult as well, just in different ways.
At Arm Dynamics, we offer our Wellness Inventory patient screening tool that can highlight possible areas that may need to be addressed by a mental health professional. This tool can be useful to help start the process of discussing the impact of an amputation beyond the physical toll, especially for someone who is reticent to do so. But we are only able to assess our patient, and while that can be enormously helpful, both partners need to be on equal footing and receiving the help they may need.
If you are both willing and able to see a counselor (separately or together) or attend group therapy, be sure that the counselor or group therapist is someone who specializes in grief and trauma. Peer support can also be very helpful, especially if both partners can find a role model – an amputee (or partner) who struggled in the beginning but is a testament to how time, care and tools can help someone adjust. Equally important can be finding the partner of an amputee to learn what the supporting partner role is like. A relationship role model situation like that described above can show both partners that surviving the kind of trauma that causes an amputation is something that can be done and can be done together.
You may find that your family, your partner’s family, and all of your friends are constantly only asking after your partner. That is what they know to do. They may not have any idea that you also need to be asked about your well-being. Being a caregiver often means being a hidden caregiver. But you can take the initiative. After discussing your partner’s recovery, do not be afraid to throw in a “I’m having a tough time of it.” That does not make you selfish. That does not make you weak. You need to receive the care that is essential to you so you can turn around and offer care back to your partner. It has been said many times, but you can’t fill someone else’s “cup” if your “cup” is empty. Learn about Spoon Theory. It now applies to both of you.
It may also be helpful to learn about grief – you and your partner are both grieving the loss of life as you knew it and the loss of a piece of the body that you both knew. According to the Kubler-Ross theory, there are five stages of grief and you can use them to discuss the feelings you both may have after an amputation – but those stages are only generalizations. There is no wrong way to manage grief, and any feelings are valid. According to Healthy Cells Magazine, “Many factors can influence the length and intensity of the grieving process. These factors can include: age, ability to cope, other health complications, preparation time prior to surgery, cause of amputation, and family/peer support.” In addition, the grieving process is not linear (neither is the recovery process), and it would not be unusual to move back and forth through the stages until one arrives at acceptance. And even then, it may not be a “permanent” acceptance until more time has passed. Understanding that it’s human to go through these very real emotions is an important first step – but understand that emotions do not define who we are.
Keep in mind that while your partner’s journey may not be something you understand, you can still be there for them. You can always listen. Encourage them to bring you along as much of that journey as they can, even if it means they say things you may not want to hear. You don’t have to “fix” any of your partner’s problems – all you have to do is validate their feelings and give them a space to feel safe to express themselves; this is not the time to agree or disagree with how they feel. Loss of a limb can bring on depression, and if that person has very little history of depression, it may be very disorienting for you to suddenly be with a depressed person. Your partnership may have been full of joy prior to their loss, and now you’re not sure if it will ever come back. One of the best things you can do is maintain your hope that time will help with the recovery of everyone’s mental health – that and surround yourself with supportive people and role models of couples who have been through similar situations.
If you feel that it could help your partner, please show them our article that is similar to this one but explores the point of view of the patient. In addition, we have more articles on how traumatic amputations can affect different types of relationships, including from the perspective of families and friends. Be sure to subscribe to our blog using the blue box to the right to receive updates on when those articles are published. If you are the partner of someone with an amputation who is struggling, please reach out to us – we may be able to help and /or connect you to someone who can. And please comment below if you have any questions or have anything encouraging that you would like to share with your peers.
In the video below, you can watch Denice discuss the impact of her husband's amputation on her:
- Good Therapy - When It All Falls Apart: Trauma’s Impact on Intimate Relationships
- Limbs 4 Life - Practical coping strategies to help amputees and their families
- The Gottman Institute - Reclaiming Our Stories From Trauma
For more information, see related articles here: