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The Other Side of the Story (Part II)

       * Last week I wrote about Judy and Miriam, two women of different ages and experience, who were closer than mother and daughter until misunderstanding pushed them apart. Judy is desperate to put their friendship back on track, the way it was. Miriam can’t seem to get beyond her hurt. She is pained by Judy’s absence in her time of need. Can their friendship ever return to where it was?


    Both women have a tremendous opportunity for growth because of what happened. If they take this opportunity, chances are their relationship will survive. It will never be the same, but it may be even richer. But if Judy and Miriam do not grow in their understanding of each other, the relationship is probably over.


    Miriam needs to realize that Judy cannot read her mind.  Assuming that Judy would just see Miriam’s needs and step in, is unrealistic. Despite being in the house so often and being Miriam’s confidant, hearing about things is not the same as living them. Judy may truly not have realized what Miriam expected of her, how to help, or even that help was needed.


     Being unmarried and much younger, Judy’s cannot emotionally totally understand Miriam’s life experiences.  Miriam needs to ask her friend for what she needs. Miriam didn’t ask Judy for anything, allowing her to remain misguided and oblivious to the desperation that was right in front of her. Then blaming her for what she was unaware of.


    Judy must become more aware. She needs not only to listen, but to actually hear what is being said. When Miriam spoke to her and confided her problems, Judy should have been more than a sounding board. She should have realized the cause of Miriam’s pain was because she was alone and without help and Judy could do something about that. If Judy had chosen to hear and not only listen, what needed to be done would have been self-evident.


   Judy’s needs and life style may be emotionally incomprehensible to Miriam at her stage of life. Judy must spend time with friends that have a similar single lifestyle and must choose that over constant dinners with Miriam’s family. Miriam needs to learn to encourage that and accept that Judy’s need to be with peers is as vital a need for Judy as support in a crisis is for Miriam.


    Both should have other friends and not rely solely on each other for company and support. Judy had no way of knowing about Miriam’s “surprise birthday dinner” unless she told her about it and, therefore, Miriam had no right to be angry because Judy made other plans. Judy, for her part, needed, at least, to acknowledge the effort with “Thank you.” Both women need to realize their lives do not revolve around one another exclusively. To be that intertwined may kill any relationship.


      All this may seem very logical, but logic is not emotion and though we should use our logic, our emotions often determine how we act and react. It was the emotions, the hurt that put this relationship in jeopardy in the first place. Saying you’re sorry is a logical, automatic response and doesn’t always fix an emotional hurt. To fix that, you need an emotional response, one that tells someone, emotionally, how sorry you really are and how much you want to fix it.


     Judy needs to explain all her logical reasons for her behavior, not as excuses but so that Miriam can understand that her behavior was not deliberate. She needs to say she is sorry and have Miriam feel that she really means it emotionally. Then she needs to go one step further and ask Miriam what she can do to make her feel better and show her how really badly she feels about not helping her when Miriam so desperately needed her help.


    Judy also needs to take ownership for the sadness that has caused Miriam. Just saying “sorry” won’t be enough. Doing something to make amends will change the emotional perception of the friendship that is now at risk and will show that she really means it. She must insist that Miriam allow her to show how much she really cares, so that she can change the emotional state they now both find themselves in.


    And then, she must try again. We are required to ask mechilah (forgiveness) three times before absolution. Sometimes people are not ready to give up their hurt for their own reasons. And so the onus is on us to try again and again to make amends. And Miriam must be emotionally open enough to give her friend a chance to make amends. Even so, if both are not willing to reconnect, one person cannot make it happen. And the friendship may never be resurrected.


     *Names have been changed.

  You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

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.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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