"He Can't Handle My Illness"

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The Counselor's Turn

Handling a Family Illness

"When one partner suffers a chronic illness and the other feels helpless to do anything about it, the anger and blame can become toxic. How spouses cope with this situation determines whether their marriage flourishes or flounders. 

"Because fibromyalgia can take so long to be diagnosed, sufferers often have to deal with family and friends who think they're lazy, faking it or just seeking attention. This can make it hard to keep up their end of a relationship, as Rachel discovered. Compounding the problem was Rachel's need for control, which she had most likely learned from her demanding mother. When her expectations weren't met, she quickly lost patience. 

"However, she was so quick to blow things out of proportion that I wondered whether her medication might be exacerbating her anxiety. Rachel's doctor switched her to another antidepressant, which helped considerably. She eventually bought a home treadmill and joined a gym with child care for Jake. Over the next few months, Rachel started to feel much better.

"Meanwhile, we had to help Adam feel less rejected and more appreciated. Though he was trying hard to be there for Rachel, he had his limits and she needed to respect them. 'Adam becomes overwhelmed when he hears the same complaints time and again,' I said. Once she understood this, Rachel began limiting the amount of time she discussed her illness and stopped getting on Adam's back about minor matters.  

"I established some basic ground rules for Adam and Rachel to follow. They were to do something fun together at least once a week, and to call each other at least once a day to chat about anything they wanted to except trivial home problems or complaints like Rachel's illness. To keep them on track, I gave them a 'report card' to fill out every week on such subjects as hand-holding, phone calls and dates.

Continued on page 5:  The Counselor's Turn, continued

 

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