While studying psychology in college I read the book Death & Dying by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who pioneered methods in the support and counseling of personal trauma, grief and grieving, associated with death and dying. Her ideas, notably the five stages of grief model (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), are transferable to varying degrees and in different ways, to personal change and emotional upset resulting from factors other than death and dying. This book intrigued me not because it was talking about the different stages someone goes through when dying, but because when someone is disabled they can go through a similar process to accept themselves as an individual with a disability.
Just like the individual with a disability has to adjust to being disabled, so does the spouse and any other family member - especially if they are the main caregiver. Just like there is AA for alcoholics and Al-Anon for family members there are also support groups for family members to help them help the individual with a disability. This article will focus on those services to help the spouse help their significant other live with a disability.
When a family member becomes disabled and is unable to work then they qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD I). As the spouse, it may fall on your shoulders to follow through and make sure that all the paperwork is in place to guarantee benefits.
If your spouse was a veteran, then you will need to file for these benefits separately from Social Security.
If your spouse was disabled on the job, while they are in the hospital seek out the social worker on staff. He can assist you in applying for nursing care and other assistance so you are not caring for your disabled spouse 24/7 without a break.
When someone becomes disabled and a can no longer perform the job she held previously, workers comp can help. Workers comp can not only provide financial assistance for medical care, but also financial assistance so the individual can get re-trained in a different job. Then they can go back to work once the medical crisis is over.
It is also recommended that as the spouse of a disabled person you seek out support groups with spouses who are experiencing similar issues. This is important because someone else in the group can provide the support needed in handling any situation that arises because they may have also experienced a similar problem in their home. If your spouse suffered a severe head injury in a car accident or a spinal cord injury where they are unable to walk or take care of any of their needs, ask the hospital where they were treated to help you find a support group that meets your specific needs.
Other family members such as children, your brothers and sisters or in-laws should also be a source of support, whether it is to give you a break so you can have some downtime or just a listening ear when you need it.
In many cases, it is important for both of you as a couple to work on any issues that have been caused by the disability. You may have a preconceived expectation of what assistance a disabled individual needs, but that may not be what they really need. By setting up an open line of communication, you will avoid any problems before they occur. It may be necessary to seek out a therapist that can help you as a couple improve how you communicate with each other to avoid these issues before they come up.