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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (Part 2)

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Last week I began to share the work of a support group. A cartoonist had come and put into cartoons the emotions, feelings and attitudes experienced by the group. The first cartoon was called Deep Pockets and aptly showed the multitude of emotions that a well spouse pushes deep down into his or her many pockets. The cartoon could just as well be of a woman with a male caregiver, but this support group was made up of only women and the gender is only an expression of who was there. It is not meant to make any gender comment. This week’s cartoon explores something very different. It talks about the relationship in a marriage, where one is dependent through necessity, socialization or habit. The dynamic is clear from the picture, and the title is perhaps shocking. Who does have the power in this picture?

 

Above we see a chronically ill person who is wheelchair bound. His expression is one of sadness and dependence, and he seems to be uninvolved. He is even leaning away from his wife, who is standing next to him. She has a sort of forced semi smile (or perhaps it is just an absence of a frown). Her hand is on his shoulder for moral support. She looks unfocused, tired and overwhelmed. The title asks, “Who is the powerful one in this picture”? Below the picture, the cartoonist put some words in the man’s mouth. “Give me! Get me!” “Why do you have to go out?” “Where are you going? When are you coming back?” “Move me a little to the right.”


In a normal relationship, where there is a give-and-take, these words may not be as emotionally laden as they are in this situation. Note the lack of “please” and “thank you”. These woman felt that those little courtesies would have made a vast difference in what they were asked to do to assist their spouses. Their lack made them feel taken for granted, used and even abused. They told me that the demands and questions the cartoonist listed were things they heard all the time. They brought with them tremendous feelings of guilt. Guilt for being the healthy one, for being able to leave the house on their own and go where they wanted; when they wanted. As one woman said, “How do you say ‘no’ to someone who can’t do it for himself; no matter how you feel or how tired you are. Even if you think what he’s asking for is something he is capable of doing for himself, you can’t just say ‘get it yourself’ or ‘I’m busy now’. So, who does have the power in a relationship where you can never say ‘no’. Not me!”


There are many different kinds of power that we come across in our lives. Some are obvious. An employer who decides if we remain employed or not has power over us. So too is the power of a union that defends a person who is fired. But in these cases there is some recourse, someone to go to for help. But who does a well spouse go to to discuss the power his or her spouse has over them? Who would understand that a chronically ill person, who may not be able to move can still exert a great deal of power, even if it is only over the spouse?













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