I'm caring for my sick and declining wife, but my own anger issues have made me a terrible caregiver at times, let alone partner. We both love each other deeply, and want to spend our final years together, but if I can't stop making her miserable I have to go. I'm already pursuing therapy, have a psychiatrist, etc. I am not ashamed to seek help; the stakes are so high. I will be devastated if I have to walk away because I am a toxic presence, and so I'm determined to address my problems and be the husband she needs. I'm seeking ideas and advice on how to eliminate the bad so we can enjoy the good. More below...
posted by anonymous to human relations (55 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
It's very hard for me to write this... pardon my use of Anonymous.
My wife is very ill, with a likely chance of a reduced lifespan. In the spirit of anonymity, I won't list her illnesses in great detail, other than to say they are autoimmune related, disabling to the point where she is bed bound and uses a wheelchair. I provide all the care in our house -- we can't afford professional home care. I cook, clean, track meds, shop, etc., as well as maintain a full time job. It's a lot of work.
We're obviously under a ton of stress. For her condition, stress is dangerous; it can exacerbate her pain and her deterioration. She needs a peaceful loving environment. In this question, I'm going to focus on my feelings and problems, because I do believe that the change in our relationship needs to be unilateral; she's dealing with enough misery already. So, I myself am under a ton of stress.
And I have responded very badly to it. I'm hypervigilant to criticism, and immediately become defensive and argumentative, which stokes an argument that can last for hours and make us both miserable and hysterical. Because she is taking strong medications, and in chronic pain, she can have a short temper. We both know it, and understand that I have to have a thick skin when she is feeling irritable and lashes out at me or criticizes me. This is apparently a common problem for caregivers and their loved ones. It is my responsibility to have a thick skin, remember her condition and the state she's in at the moment, and respond with love and kindness.
But sometimes I don't. Sometimes I take it very personally, counter her statements, bicker with her, "go on the record," become resentful when an apology isn't accepted right away, etc. In a relationship with healthy people, this would be toxic. For ours, it's far worse. These arguments can escalate horribly to shouting, breakdowns, self-pity, threats to "give up", etc. It's not pretty, and it's draining, and so hard on her.
I've had a few therapists, who, despite my insistence that we focus on my problems with dealing with the situation, find a way to blame her or suggest that she has to "meet me halfway." Unfortunately, it's not applicable when someone is suffering so much. They can't make it to half way, and they're counting on their loved one to reach out further and be understanding. The ball is in my court.
I have no interest in walking away, thinking I'll find a more compatible partner some day. This is the woman I want to spend my life with -- and in fact, I have a life-limiting condition as well, so it's a morbid race to see who will go first. We both want to be with the other through the final years. It's now up to me to make that possible by becoming a good husband.
For the record: we are non-religious, creative, writers, lefties, possess dark senses of humor, rock the fuck out, and are actually really fun to be around. It's not all doom and gloom. But the doom is overwhelming us and I'm failing to keep it at bay and make our lives as good as they can be.
I am really, really open to any suggestions, though spirituality based advice doesn't mesh with my (or her) worldview. You can tell me I'm an asshole who needs to get out, and I'll accept that as a valid piece of advice, because I have thought the same thing. But she needs me to be a great partner, and deserves it, so I owe her a last ditch effort to get on that track quickly.
Thanks in advance.