A Second Opinion: Your Wife's Support and Tough Love When You're Sick

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In Sickness and in Health

In general it's always better if married people get sick one at a time. If you have kids or pets, it's always preferable that one of you is well enough to feed them. And within the couple itself, it's best if both are clear on who is the caregiver and the caregivee. During illness defenses are down and hypersensitivity reigns, and it's easy to say mean things you don't necessarily mean. Only one spouse at a time should be able to invoke illness -- "sorry, babe, it was the drugs talking" -- to get out of such emotional jams.

When both of us are ill, we see all the gender differences in nurturing -- and in suffering -- up close and personal. Diane will be the first to tell you I have a spectacular bedside manner (when I am actually able to sit by the bed without lightning bolts shooting up my spine). But when my back is all twisted up, I can be cranky, annoying, and needy. I don't think I ever quite reach the stereotype of the whiny baby that men are supposedly reduced to at the slightest hangnail. And I'm sure none of my basketball buddies ever think they do either -- although I wouldn't want to eavesdrop on a conversation among the hoop wives on the subject.

Actually, we've reached the point in our marriage that whenever I act testy, Diane will look at me compassionately and ask, "Your back's sore, isn't it?" (Only an idiot would say, "No, my back is perfectly fine.")

Diane, on the other hand, believes that no matter how sick she is, she must do the laundry and clean the kitchen. I ask her not to, but she seems strangely uncompelled by my suggestion that surely we can survive in our own filth for a few days. Instead she stands there lecturing me -- and then, when I go back to the couch, yammering to herself -- about the countless chores that women get stuck with no matter the situation. If she were in an iron lung, with both arms in casts, she would still be trying to figure out a way to scotch over to the kitchen sink so she could keep tidying.

Last night she dragged herself, sick with aches and chills, into the darkened bedroom and because she had insisted on doing one more load of whites, tripped over the pile she had sorted out and literally flipped right into the empty basket. If that happened to me, the paramedics would have needed to get the Jaws of Life. But not my wife. She got up, dusted herself off, and proceeded to collapse into bed.

Continued on page 3:  The Stronger Sex


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