Healing Hearts Together (HHT) is a relationship-education program for couples that aims to enhance couples’ relationship quality, and mental and physical health.
The aim of HHT is to help develop emotional responsiveness and engagement between partners after one individual is faced with a cardiac event or procedure.
Strong attachments help individuals thrive; this involves feeling understood, validated, and cared-for by their partner. The program guides couples through conversations in which they:
- learn to clearly communicate their need for connection and reassurance; and
- learn about patients’ and partners’ unique experiences with heart disease, so that they can best manage the disease.
Based on feedback from previous participants, the program also provides an opportunity for patients to share their experiences with other patients, while partners share with other partners.
The program consists of eight (8) weekly, two-hour sessions through videoconferencing or at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, led by two facilitators.
Session 1: Understanding the relationship between love, attachment, and heart disease. Challenges faced by cardiac couples and how these affect risk-factor management.
Session 2: Sharing experiences. Patients and partners are separated into two groups to share common experiences (e.g., most difficult part of heart disease, fears and concerns, how heart disease changed their relationship).
Session 3: Recognizing negative relationship patterns (e.g., partner nags to get patient to eat healthier, which leads the patient to eat more or shut down; partner is fearful of another cardiac event and is overprotective, so the patient overdoes it to prove his/her ability or keeps partner unaware of his/her actions).
Session 4: Finding Raw Spots. Learning how temperaments and relationship histories are hardwired in the brain, and how these impact current relationship patterns and behaviours (e.g., partner’s father died from a heart attack, which provokes anxiety and overprotective behaviours).
Session 5: Becoming open and responsive to each other (e.g., couples help each other share their fears and frustrations about heart disease and its impact on them individually and as a couple and discuss what they need from each other for an improved relationship and health).
Session 6: Forgiving. Discuss times of hurt (e.g., you hardly came to see me in the hospital), apologize and create a new connection.
Session 7: Sexual health and cardiovascular disease (e.g., common concerns, practical tips considering heart health, cardiac medications).
Session 8: Keeping the love alive. Review lessons learned in the program and ways to maintain a more positive relationship to better manage cardiovascular health.