Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons. We have said that just as important as the information the test gives, is what we do with the information and how it can help a couple handle some of the disturbing behavior the well spouse is subjected to and the ill spouse may be totally oblivious of. We addressed how to work with a counselor so that you can get the answers you need and the necessity to make sure that as a couple you and your spouse have the same goals.
Many spouses who have entered this testing journey have written saying that, “He is not the man I married.” and feel that the test results and “getting the proper therapy for him” will be the solution. They hope it will restore their marriage and reduce the anger they feel toward their spouse.
Many well spouses have been married for quite some time before they reach the point of testing and or counseling. A large part of those years may have been spent dealing with illness. Chances are there is much in the marriage and the relationship that needs to be worked out. This would be the case whether or not illness was a part of the marriage. Illness has just exacerbated and compounded normal marital problems. Some of the ill spouse’s behaviors (and that of the well spouse) may be things neither wants to change right now. These behaviors may have nothing or everything to do with the illness but not be caused by it. The test results will help set realistic goals and enhance understanding for both spouses. That is why marriage counseling should be part of any plan.
Like it or not, you will both need to be part of the solution. There will be things that you may have to learn to help the ill spouse with. You may discover how you are enabling and supporting the very behavior you don’t like and need to learn how to stop. A good counselor can help enormously with this and may be the only way to help you put the pieces back. If you have children, it may be helpful to involve them in the therapy as much for their sake as yours and your spouse. This is even truer if they are still living at home. The illness has affected them as well and they may also be contributing, unwittingly, to the problems.
As many of us know only too well, the cost of testing and therapy can be expensive. Some therapists, however, will make concessions when you share your financial situation with them. Don’t be afraid to discuss money with the therapist. There are also agencies, Jewish and non-Jewish, that have an income-based sliding scale for therapy. Another source for you might be the various groups that give support to patients with a specific illness and their families, like the MS Society. Some of these agencies have contracts with therapists who serve their clients at a reduced cost or no cost at all depending on the situation. An additional benefit here is that most of these therapists understand what living with illness means for the well spouse and his family as well as the ill person.
The thought of therapy can be very frightening. Asking a well spouse to take on a commitment like couple counseling on top of their daily burdens often feels like one task too many added to a day that is more than full. Many people feel it is more than they can cope with. But if a well spouse chooses to continue in the marriage, is there another choice? The anger many well spouses live with can consume them and even cause them to develop their own chronic illness. Caregivers often predecease their chronically ill spouses if they don’t take care of themselves. Counseling, whether individual (if couple counseling isn’t going to work) and or marriage counseling (if it is appropriate) or both may be the only wise alternative.
Time and circumstance changes us all. Illness takes its toll on everyone. As the reader wrote, “He is not the man I married.” But we are no longer the partners they chose either. Hopefully, with counseling you will be able to rekindle the feelings that brought you together originally or at least be able to make a satisfying life for yourself within the marriage.