Good Morning! Today I want to address two really good questions I received concerning husbands when I was the Chronic Illness Expert at Cafe Mom. This one is from Debbie:
"I have a question regarding spouses. I imagine that dealing with "us" becomes overwhelming and frustrating for them, however, what is it when you know yourself that they are using you as an excuse, or blaming you…. making it out that they are NOT the ones with an issue or attitude, that it is us (all the time?). That is simply not true. But it becomes a battle of wits… almost like you are being enticed into an argument for the sake of making them appear right. Why is this?"
And this from Susan:
"What are some tips for helping our mates cope with this awful spot they are in? My husband has had to step and take on primary responsibility for work, since I can only work sporadically, care of our son, cooking etc. We've developed some crafty ways to tell him when I am in pain and how severe it is, like using magnetic numbers for the fridge. But I mean deeper, he is starting to show signs of wear and tear. I do my best to make sure he gets some free time, but he has the weight of the world on his shoulders and I want to lift some of that off without plopping it on me in the form of guilt."
How many of us really know what we are talking about when we take our wedding vows, “in sickness and in health”? Most of us don’t have a clue. Our partners were blind-sided by the illness just like we were and therefore they are vulnerable to similar emotional stress.
Most of us, men in particular, are programmed from birth to fix things. Our healthy spouses hate that in the face of chronic illness, they can’t fix things for you. Their frustration can come out as irritability, sniping, overcompensation, co-dependent, enabling-type behavior, throwing themselves into work (an area where they can feel competant) and/or shutting down emotionally, appearing kind of flat. All of these can be masking depression.
When we are talking about our spouse’s happiness we are often talking about the health of our marriage. Here are a few tips that I hope will help your marriage cope with the stress of chronic illness. Not in order of importance:
1) Be honest with yourself. Only you in your heart can know how much you reasonably can and cannot do. When you know your limits there is no need to be defensive.
2) Remember you are on the same team. Your marriage is a cart being drawn by two horses, you and your spouse. Being a team, when you pull in the same direction with the same speed, your cart goes forward. If you run in opposite directions, the cart falls apart.
3) Keep the chronic illness outside of yourself. Keep it figuratively “out there.” That way the problem isn’t you; the illness is another problem to face and deal with, like the mortgage. That way it's easier for the two of you to face it together and problem solve shoulder to shoulder.
4) Let your partner take responsibility for his own emotional life. Susan is right about being aware that while she wants to lighten her husband’s burden, she could feel guilty which isn’t good for either one of them.
5) Remember, we cannot change them. We can only ask ourselves, “Am I being the best partner I can be?” Miraculously, by not responding defensively to their provocations, for example, not yelling back when we are yelled at, we role model real vs psuedo communication.
6) Be creative. I love how Susan and her husband have a non-verbal signal for pain level. You can also be creative about “lightening the load.” Are there other community, friend or family supports that can be utilized better? The two of you can Internet search healthy, easy recipes for dinner.
7) Find a routine you both can count on. Stress thrives in chaos. Health – emotional as well as physical – loves regularity. The more you can plan your day and week, the easier for both of you. Take a few minutes at least once a week to go over what will be happening the week ahead.
8) There’s always therapy. I know I can be a broken record about this but couples counseling is for more than just couples who are fighting and heading for divorce. A good couples counselor can help you loosen up your creative energy when you are too deep in bad habits. A lot of spouses will go to couples therapy “for you” and then get help for their own adjustment problems or depression.
9) Let him know, every day, in small but direct ways, when he is appreciated. The carrot rather than the stick, is the most powerful tool for positive change.
10) The book, The Power of Two, by Susan Heitler is a favorite of mine. It is a practicle resource that helps even the best marriage to pay attention to how we are communicating, talking and listening to each other.