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August 28, 2006 11:04 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop my husband from getting sick every time I'm sick? Whenever I come down with a cold, headache, whatever, he also CLAIMS to get the same thing...often the same day, no later than the 2nd day.

I'll start sniffling and sneezing... he'll state his neck hurts and he "must be coming down with my cold". I'll say "colds don't normally start with neck pain", but he'll insist that that's the way his colds start (but he never starts sniffling & sneezing, just complains of the aches & pains till I've recovered).

I get a stomach ache - so does he. Must be something "we both ate." On and on, for years now. It's gotten to the point where I avoid mentioning any type of ailment, but if I have to mention I missed an appointment last week because I was 'sick' with whatever he'll say he didn't feel well last week either.

When I first noticed this I pretended to be sick a couple of times so I could be sure I wasn't imagining things. Same thing happened - he also got sick (even though I wasn't really sick).

I guess I have a couple of questions.

Why does he do this? I've heard of men getting pregnancy symptoms along with their pregnant wives, but my husband never did that. Sometime he becomes 'sick' when the kids are, but not nearly as often.

How can I help him stop? The one time I gently brought it up (honey, I think it's a little odd you get sick everytime I do) didn't go over well. I've tried flat out ignoring his talk about also being sick; and on the chance that he needed some extra attention, I've tried offering extra TLC during these times. Nothing has made any difference.

If he can't stop this, then how can I lessen how weirded out it makes me feel? It feels a bit invasive of my personal space, my individuality, and otherwise is just annoying.

We have a good relationship otherwise, no other problems; and this issue only comes up a few times a year, just when I'm sick obviously (and by 'sick' I mean anything from minor headaches, allergies or feeling too tired, on up to having the flu). He does not invade other areas of my life, he's not controlling, jealous, or anything like that.

Any insight?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
He's got a moderate case of me-tooism. Be glad that it doesn't extend to every. single. experience. that you discuss. Yes, it's annoying as heck.

Does he use it as an excuse to get out of doing stuff "because he's 'sick, too'"?
posted by desuetude at 11:27 AM on August 28, 2006

Hard one, it sounds related to Factitious Disorders, but nothing fits exactly.

It is doubly hard to come up with anything meaningful because 1) additional information is missing, 2) it may not be functionally adverse enough to warrant therapy. (i.e. if you can live with it, and he can live with it treatment may be more detrimental than not, but if either party is having serious issues then it does become a problem warranting intervention).

Whatever it is, it sounds pretty ingrained as it provokes a strong defensive reaction when you attempt to address it. Such things are pretty hard to treat without professional help, but... well see the functionality bit above.
posted by edgeways at 11:31 AM on August 28, 2006

Damn, this is timely, because I just bitched at my husband last night about something similar.

Do you know what his parents/family were like when he was sick as a child? A lot of parents, particularly moms with only/youngest sons, go way overboard with the coddling when their children are ill. My husband, an only child, acts like a total baby when he's sick, to the point where it's maddening. Ask his mom if he "got sick" a lot as a child.

Also, do YOU coddle him when he's genuinely ill? Some people love that sort of attention from their mates, even if they're not TLC-deprived in the first place. Particularly, of course, if your man is used to being babied and coddled when he's sick. This is doubly irritating if you are, like me, pretty stoic when you're sick.

My suggestion (which is a harsh one) is to tell him to man up, Nancy.
posted by timetoevolve at 11:37 AM on August 28, 2006


If it's any consolation, my dad does this with my mom all the time, and with me to a lesser extent.
posted by piratebowling at 11:38 AM on August 28, 2006

I'd love to hear how, and if, you work this out. I was married for 4 years to a man who not only did this, but had to outdo my ailments, as well.

I had a headache? He had a pounding migraine. My noise was stuffy? He had a sinus infection.

It was mildly annoying to begin with, but it got worse as time went on. There were kids to care for, and in a marriage sometimes one person needs to be the strong one - I found that with any ailment I had to just muscle through it, because if I told him about it, he would be bedridden with something worse. In a good marriage (ha! Like I'd even know what that was!) I would think two people would take turns at being the metaphorical muscle and at being the sick one.

I wish you luck. Sounds like the rest of your marriage is going well and it doesn't seem to be interfering with childcare, etc ...? The thing that always worried me was how unaware my husband seemed to be about it - I would have preferred he said, "Oh yes, I see that I do that too! How weird!" But he would deny it outright and swear all his ailments were genuine.

Needless to say, my marriage ended, but that was only one out of many issues - our biggest being a complete lack of open communication. Professional help might be a good idea (couples counseling, or some such) just to see if there are underlying issues you may not be aware of.
posted by routergirl at 11:46 AM on August 28, 2006

Gah!! *Nose, not noise!
posted by routergirl at 11:47 AM on August 28, 2006

My dad does it to my mom as well. We figure it is so he won't have to coddle her if he is sick too. Especially since every time he is sick, it is the WORST.illness.EVAR!
posted by blackkar at 11:50 AM on August 28, 2006

When you become ill, he sees extra burdens (perhaps minor, but unwanted burdens) coming his way, and sees all the sympathy going your way. He's waiting for all the "Honey, would you do X, get Y, take care of Z?" requests and thinking, "Oh, Christ, she's got a cold. Here we go again." So his (subconscious?) strategy to avoid this and keep the balance is to become ill too.

(That's a totally unfounded guess, of course, and I'm not sure how likely it is after rereading your question, but that's what you get when you ask strangers.)
posted by pracowity at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have a touch (er, sometimes more than a touch) of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and am extremely germ-phobic. I've done this to my partner before -- if my partner's sick, I'll sometimes interpret the slightest discomfort as a sure sign that I've caught whatever he has. I also tend to do the same thing if I've had close contact with a sick friend (e.g., hugs, handshakes) -- I'll watch myself very carefully over the next 24 hours or so, wondering if every sneeze means I've caught whatever bug is going around. Now that I'm aware of this behavior as an OCD-related thing, I'm getting better at cutting it out . . .

Does your husband display any other OCD-like symptoms (e.g., unusually frequent hand-washing, always doing certain tasks in exactly the same quasi-ritualistic way, as if his life depends on it)? If so, it could be an obsessive-compulsive thing, and may really have nothing to do with you or your relationship with him at all.
posted by treepour at 11:52 AM on August 28, 2006

maybe he's a bit passive-aggressive and dislikes it when your being sick puts _you_ at the center of attention , or he's just an attention whore.

maybe he's truly germ phobic and he's afraid that you're polluting the very air he breathes with your germs. or maybe he's just a bit of an asshole. it's difficult (but fun!) to diagnose people over the Internet, especially when you're not a doctor
posted by matteo at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2006

I think treepour is onto something, even if your husband doesn't have OCD. Especially if his cold/stomachache/headache is always a milder version of yours (instead of stronger), it may just be that he's interpreting regular passing random bodily discomforts as being due to a cold coming on. I see this happen in myself, but I always mentally check and remind myself that it's probably just bias, and that if I'll know if I'm getting sick, not by minor discomfort, but by actually getting sick. After a few times of my wife getting sick, and me noticing some sort of discomfort, but then noticing that I don't actually get sick, I've realized that I'm just looking at normal discomfort as a possible sign of illness, but that I'm obviously looking incorrectly, because I'm not getting ill. Perhaps your husband just isn't looking past the first thought of "She's sick. I have a headache. Maybe I'm getting sick."
posted by Bugbread at 12:09 PM on August 28, 2006

Maybe he's an empath.

I dunno, what does he say when you point it out?
posted by scheptech at 12:15 PM on August 28, 2006

He also might be under a particularly misguided idea that this is a way for showing sympathy to you. Because you're not alone in this headcold you've got, anonymous. He knows EXACTLY how you feel. Like, literally. Ooh, was that a sniffle? Oh, poor us.
posted by desuetude at 12:54 PM on August 28, 2006

Such things are pretty hard to treat without professional help

Come on. Can the good citizens of Ask Metafilter even tie their shoes without going to a professional therapist? Good god.

You can try talking to your husband about this, which people often do! It will make him annoyed, it will be difficult, but it will be worth it.

Sounds like an annoying but minor situation which could easily be resolved by just telling him to stop and letting him get annoyed.
posted by xmutex at 1:16 PM on August 28, 2006

My suggestion (which is a harsh one) is to tell him to man up, Nancy.

Seriously. Not only must this be frustrating for you, but how unattractive. Not exactly masculine, whimpering with sickness every time you don't feel well. He's your husband - he should be plumping your pillows and making you soup! Maybe a blow to that fragile masculine ego by pointing this out might help.
posted by meerkatty at 1:30 PM on August 28, 2006

He's your husband - he should be plumping your pillows and making you soup!

Or watching football and telling you to cry to someone else.
posted by xmutex at 1:39 PM on August 28, 2006

Or watching football and telling you to cry to someone else.

Yes, probably a more apt description!
posted by meerkatty at 1:42 PM on August 28, 2006

meerkatty : "Maybe a blow to that fragile masculine ego by pointing this out might help."

His masculine ego is weak? How do you know?
posted by Bugbread at 1:56 PM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Can he get occasional time off from domestic duties without actually being sick? How do you feel about him taking the occasional sick day off work when not really ill, to use for himself? In other words, can you make it unnecessary for him to exaggerate ordinary random aches into illness?

I think a confrontation is a bad idea if it's not causing problems with child care etc - I would just suggest inwardly rolling your eyes and mentally reciting the Serenity Prayer.

Lastly, people do get sick in different ways - I always get a low grade fever when I get a cold, and the accompanying aches are generally worse than the respiratory symptoms.
posted by teleskiving at 3:20 PM on August 28, 2006

I think a confrontation is a bad idea if it's not causing problems with child care etc - I would just suggest inwardly rolling your eyes and mentally reciting the Serenity Prayer.

That's so weak, and a great way to start building resenment. Human interaction is confrontation, and sometimes it's going to be unpleasant. Be an honest person and talk to him and tell him this crap is lame.
posted by xmutex at 3:47 PM on August 28, 2006

Unattractive confession time. I have to fight the urge to do the exact same thing to my wife.

I have never been confronted by my wife about it, but realized a couple of years ago that I was doing this. Partly it was a very wussy way for me to say "Please don't expect sympathy and extra care from me, I don't want to give it." Which is pretty crappy. I realized this when she legitimately did this to me once when I was sick, (she was sick too, really sick, not fake wussy sick) and I really missed the comfort that she usually provides simply by being there for me and taking care of things that I can't. The solution was to man up and get over it.

A small part of it was not just being wussy, part of it is that I get very frustrated at doing very badly some of the things she does routinely and very well, and I do not enjoy being bad at things. (When she cooks dinner=yummy, when I cook dinner= burnt eggs and a bag of cheetos.) But basically, that desire not to feel the stress of failure is pretty losery too. This realization has also motivated me to learn at least the basics of cooking so that is no longer an issue.

I suspect that had I not started fixing this myself the most effective method of my wife changing my behaviour would have been a direct "Grow up you big baby."
posted by tcskeptic at 4:33 PM on August 28, 2006 [7 favorites]

Tell him you're having really horrible menstrual cramps and tender breasts. If he says, "Me too!", then you'll have a good excuse to have a talk with him...
posted by seymour.skinner at 5:31 PM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here are a few sideways ways of going about it:

"Hey Joe, I'm calling you at work to ask -- will you please pick up some Chinese on the way home for us for dinner? Oh, and can you take Daughter Sally to the park tomorrow? You can? I am so relieved. I have a splitting headache! You doing those things is going to make my life bearable. Thank you so much."

"Hey Joe, how are you? Fine? That is so good to hear. The doctor just told me I have strep throat. But she said there's a 14-day incubation period, but that if you don't have it yet, you won't get it for another two weeks! And with me on medicine, you may not get it at all!" (not sure this is accurate)
posted by beatrice at 11:03 AM on August 29, 2006

Right now I'm at home with double pneumonia and 103 fever. My otherwise wonderful husband is napping in the next room because "my throat is itchy". I've just learned to live with it, and to hire help to clean the kitchen/watch the kid when I'm sick. Perhaps not the best feminist answer, but works for us.
posted by mozhet at 12:57 PM on August 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Right now I'm at home with double pneumonia and 103 fever. My otherwise wonderful husband is napping in the next room because "my throat is itchy".

That's just pathetic.
posted by xmutex at 3:13 PM on August 29, 2006

Two things are probably going on here (and I have been guilty myself of something similar...)

1. When he was sick as a little boy, he was the center of attention. Lots of hugs and solicitude. Like rats pushing the cocaine button, it's hard to unlearn that behavior.

2. He feels like he doesn't get enough attention under normal circumstances. (Which MIGHT have something to do with you...)

To solve #1, I agree, "man up Nancy" is probably the right response, but you have to also address #2. While whining is UNBELIEVABLY unattractive to women (so my wife has told me in no uncertain terms), he's whining because he thinks it will get him some validation.

All husbands want to feel special, and a whole lot of them complain that their wives don't exactly make that a priority. So to really kill this, find a way to make him feel special in a way that has NOTHING to do with the whining. Praise something good that he did. Tell him you think he's special for an action he took (not for whimpering on the couch).

Applied appropriately, he will be drawn to the noble path of manliness and action, and abandon the path of sniveling. Yes, it's a pain that he plays this game, but you can change it. (Hey, I'm sure you picked up some bad habits from your family of origin, too.)

It may take an act of will to find something good he did that actually involved initiative, but us husbands tend to have a very simple operating system-- if it gets us praise, admiration, and physical intimacy, we'll keep doing it.

He will only change if you provide a roadmap; that said, he will follow that map until it falls apart.
posted by adbomaha at 9:32 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

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