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Help Your Partner Support You When You're Having Surgery

Having a major medical procedure can be a scary life-changing event. Events like this cause stress which can increase conflict in your relationship, but conflict is the last thing you need when preparing or recovering from surgery. It’s really important to talk to your partner about your feelings and needs before the big day. Your partner may also be feeling anxious and this can help to support their feelings as well.


A good rule for having productive communication with your partner is to listen, summarize, and validate. When your partner is speaking you should be focused on what they are saying, understanding them and how they feel instead of focusing on your own feelings. When they finish, try summarizing their points and validating at least part of how they feel. Understanding must come before problem-solving and if one or both of you don’t feel understood, that’s when conflict can escalate.


Here are some suggestions for conversations to have:


Preparing for surgery

  • Cleaning the house: Tackling this task together beforehand to make things easier for the first few weeks after surgery can be a good idea.

  • Prepping meals: Even if your partner loves to cook, the added caretaking can be exhausting and having a few pre-prepped meals can give them a break.

  • Gathering items needed for recovery: Set up a recovery spot in bed or on the couch with everything you’ll need close by.

  • Discussing the worst-case scenario: Dying in surgery is rare but some people like to discuss their will and afterlife preparations just in case.


At the hospital

  • Do you want them with you?: Let your partner know if you need them there the whole time, and if you have kids, find childcare together.

  • Discuss how your partner can advocate for you: Make sure they know your wishes if the surgeon asks them questions during the procedure, discuss how they can advocate for your care in recovery if you have to stay a few nights, and review how they can communicate to family and friends on your behalf.

  • Who can visit you?: If the hospital allows visitors, discuss who if anyone you would be Ok to have stopping by.


Recovery

  • Explain what tasks you normally do that your partner will need to take over. Don’t assume they know what you take care of around the house; a list can be handy.

  • Identify outside help if needed. Don’t overload your partner: If you need help with the kids set that up, hire a cleaning person, or plan to order takeout.

  • How much time will your partner will need to take off to help you in recovery? Discuss how long you’d like support, and if your partner can get that approved at work.



It is important to have ongoing conversations about how you both are feeling and what you need help with. It can be normal after surgery to experience elevated depression or anxiety symptoms, so make sure your partner knows that, and what they can do to help. Of course, finding a therapist for individual therapy, couples therapy, or both can also be really helpful in this situation.

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