“People may not remember what you said or what you did but they will remember how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
Effective couple communication is the foundation of a strong marriage. Parkinson’s Disease (PD) can compromise a couple’s ability to communicate. The following couple communication strategies can help you maintain or even enhance your relationship.
Listening and Speaking
Communication involves listening and speaking.
To listen more effectively:
- Practice active listening: paraphrase the message and the feelings behind the message of your partner.
- When you hear or understand only part of what your partner is saying, don’t say “what?” or “huh” but instead say the part of the message that you heard in the form of a question. This allows your partner to clarify his or her message and creates a respectful communication exchange.
EXAMPLE: I ask my husband, Tom, “Will you pick up a pizza for dinner on your way home from work?” His response is “Did you say that you want me to pick up something for dinner on my way home from work?” and I respond with, “Yes, a pizza.” This interaction shows that my husband heard and understood most of my message and that he tried to clarify it.
Environment for Communication
- Turn off the blaring noise of your television and of your music. These distractions can make it difficult for you or your partner to speak above the noise and to hear each other speak.
- Attempt to communicate with your partner when you are face to face. Communication with your partner when you are in different parts of your home is unlikely to be effective. Also, with fly-by communication (where you are trying to give an important message to your spouse as you fly out the front door), it is unlikely that your message will be heard, understood or remembered.
Body Language and Non-Verbal Communications
Communication can be hampered by the PD facial mask (and I don't mean the kind that you get at the beauty spa). This occurs when persons with PD have less facial expression and their faces communicate less emotional meaning to their listeners. Often their faces appear angry, stern or flat, in contrast to what they are feeling inside. Persons with PD might think they are showing and expressing happiness, yet because of their PD, have a masked face and a lack of expression, so that their emotions can no longer be read by their loved ones.
EXAMPLE: A husband of a woman with PD frequently asks her “Are you mad at me?” when in reality she was feeling very satisfied and content.
Respectful communication also entails for you to:
- Discourage others (and yourself) from speaking as though the person with PD is not present.
EXAMPLE: I overheard two wives complain about the poor posture of their husbands with PD. Their husbands, sitting nearby, winced when being criticized in this manner, particularly since they likely perceived there was little they could do to improve their posture.
EXAMPLE: When we were on vacation visiting friends that we hadn’t seen for many years, the couple whispered to my husband, Tom, and asked how I was REALLY doing with PD. Tom response was, “Why don’t you ask Kate? She’s right over there,” pointing to me only a few feet away (Yeah, Tom)
- Discourage others (and yourself) from speaking to persons with PD so loudly as though they can’t hear or understand and to avoid talking to them like children.
EXAMPLE: I have experienced people talking to me very loudly assuming that if I talk quietly, that I also must be deaf or stupid. Don’t assume that because I have a quiet PD voice that I also have a hearing problem or that I don’t understand. My hearing is just fine, thank you very much, and my cognitive abilities are fully intact.
In a group setting, often persons with PD feel left out or isolated Their voices are quiet, they can have difficulty hearing or understanding what others are saying, they might have trouble formulating their thoughts and keeping up with the pace of the discussion and adding their comments on a timely basis, they often have problems with finding the right word and sometimes have difficulty interpreting and responding to the non-verbal aspects of the discussion.
When you attempt to communicate within a group environment, it is important to develop verbal and non-verbal signals that indicate when you want others to help and when you want to communicate on your own. For example, signals might include the following:
A nod to your partner might indicate “yes, I want your help and please speak on my behalf.”
An index finger up or a palm facing out might indicate “please give me a minute to collect my thoughts.”
A person verbalizing “let me try saying that again” wants an opportunity to restate his communication so that it’s clear.
In conclusion, patience is required in the communication of couples where PD is part of the relationship. Acceptance of these communication changes, developing strategies, and taking action is important in maintaining a strong couple relationship.
You Won’t Want to Miss This Podcast
A Message from Mary Spremulli from Voice Aerobics:
On Friday, February 28, 2014 at 12:30 PM EST, Dr Paul Short, a neuropsychologist, and the "Parkinson's Coach," will be my guest on: Voice Aerobics Talking 2 You, my monthly podcast at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/voice-aerobics.
I encourage you to call in to the show to speak with me, the host of the show, and Dr Short about the issues that challenge you or your partner's relationship since receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease.
If you are a spouse of a persons with Parkinson's responsible for therapy appointments, medication regimens, and doctor's appointments, you may feel that you are always on the edge, and find yourself saying: “I miss the relationship that we used to have. Sometimes I feel more like a parent than a spouse.” If this sounds or feels familiar, and you long to discover the "possibilities" still present in your relationship, I invite you to call in to speak with Dr Paul, or send me an email with your questions or concern to: email@example.com.
If you are a therapist, nurse, or other health care professional, I hope that will also join the conversation and learn how to support your patients and their partners in living well with Parkinson's Disease.
For further information, please send me an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.