"We Almost Lost Our Daughter -- Then Our Marriage"

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The Counselor's Turn

"How Do You Care For Your Child As Well As Yourselves?"

"Many marriages are shaken by the stresses of a child's serious illness," said the counselor. "It's not unusual for basic communication and time alone to be put on hold. The underlying issue with Leigh and Sean was simple: In the face of a youngster's health crisis, how do you care for your child as well as yourselves?

"I pointed out that every person responds differently to a crisis and there is no right formula for coping. It was imperative that they both understood and respect that, and not assume, as Leigh did, that Sean didn't care just because he wasn't reacting the same way she was. What's more, Leigh's continuing anxiety about her daughter's health prevented her from letting Sean relieve her burden as much as he might have. She was unable to step back and let Sean take over everyday duties -- making dinner, doing the laundry -- without dictating how they should be done. Although she was furious about having to do everything, she was too exhausted to see that she was making her own situation worse.

"A take-charge, emotional woman, Leigh was physically and mentally depleted by her determination to make her daughter well. The fact that she had also witnessed the death of another baby in the intensive care unit had traumatized her, though neither realized how deeply until she burst into sobs recalling the incident. Sean, in turn, responded to his daughter's illness by burying himself in his work.

Talk and Time

"Although Sean described his family as close when he was growing up, it became clear that expressing feelings, particularly sad or negative ones, had been routinely discouraged. In counseling, he acknowledged that his father had also been highly critical of his homemaker mother -- a pattern he was unwittingly repeating.

"For this couple, talk and time were the healing factors. As they listened to each other, I helped them manage painful feelings and find simple solutions to problems that had them gridlocked. For example, I insisted that Leigh find ways to defuse her own anxiety by eating regular healthy meals and giving herself one hour in the middle of the day to sleep, exercise, meditate, or just read a magazine. That meant either napping when the twins did or hiring a babysitter for a few hours. 

"I also helped Leigh recognize when she was slipping into self-defeating thought patterns that compounded her stress. Whenever she found herself dwelling on the past when Stacy was critically ill, I urged her to repeat, 'My baby did not die, and there's no indication she's now in danger.' By focusing on what was happening in the present, Leigh put her fears into perspective and felt more comfortable making play dates and signing the girls up for community gym and art classes. Recently, the girls began to sleep in their own room -- something they, and their parents, were excited about. 

Continued on page 4:  The Counselor's Turn, continued

 

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