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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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The Right To Ask, Or Not

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(Names changed)


Last week I discussed whether a close friend has a right to expect to know everything that is going on in our lives in order for them to be supportive of us. Is the desire to know our pain a selfish act or one of generosity? Must we share our pain in order to get support? When I discussed this topic with some well spouses, they indicated that how a person responds to their pain often determines whether they will open up to them again, or not.


If the support takes the form of questions − uncomfortable information seeking questions, or takes the form of challenging the validity of our decisions; chances are that person will not be someone they would confide in again. The consensus was that questions in a time of pain were obtrusive, not supportive.


Questioning the wisdom of what they had done made many feel the need to justify their actions and just served to undermine a difficult decision.  Either way, it forced the person in crisis to deal with a situation they did not want to deal with at that time. It made them sorry they ever confided in the friend in the first place. Here are some of their examples.


Shani lived in a different city than her youngest daughter, Yaeli. Yaeli was no longer religious but since she lived far away, Shani saw no reason to share that painful information with her community. Her daughter’s life style embarrassed Shani.  One friend would constantly ask Shani when Yaeli and her family were coming for a Yom Tov. 


Shani would invent a reply each time. Not satisfied, the friend would then question Shani as to why she didn’t go to them for the holidays. For two years this repetitive conversation occurred before each Yom Tov. Shani told me that by now you’d think her friend would figure something was up and stop asking.


Therefore, if Shani needed a confidant, it would never be this friend whose constant questioning showed either a lack of insight or inappropriate curiosity. Either way, these questions made her a person Shani would not confide in, no matter how close they were.
Harold’s married son, Avi decided to buy himself a motorcycle. Harold was beside himself. He could not sleep, constantly worrying about Avi’s safety. But Avi was a self- supporting adult. Harold had discussed his concerns with him when he first mentioned buying the bike. The fact that Avi always wore a helmet, took a class before getting his license and stayed within the speed limit helped, but did not take away Harold’s fears for his son’s safety.


He would have felt better if he could share his concerns with a friend, but before he had a chance to do so, his friend called him and questioned how Harold could have “allowed” his son to buy the bike.  Didn’t he know a motorcycle was dangerous? Didn’t he care about his family? Etc.


The questions only made Harold defensive. He felt he needed to justify something he was not comfortable with. How he wished his friend had shown concern without the critical, challenging questions. It would have made him a confidant instead of an adversary.


On the way home from a well spouse support group meeting, Rosie confided in Miriam about an argument she and her husband were having about selling their handicapped van and replacing it with a smaller car. Rosie found the van hard to drive. It was getting harder and harder to push the wheelchair in and out of the van. Rosie felt that the money they would save on gas by using a small car would allow her husband to take adaptive transport. This would make Rosie’s life much easier.


But Rosie’s husband wouldn’t hear of it. Rosie felt it was totally selfish of him. Long after the argument was history, Miriam kept making reference to Rosie’s husband as selfish.  Every time Miriam used the words. “Your selfish husband,” Rosie regretted ever having said anything. 


She told me, “I can beat up my husband verbally, but I hate when anyone else does. I am so sorry I ever told her about the fight.  I needed to vent and I certainly picked the wrong person.”


The well spouses concluded that if you want to be a confidant, if you want to support a friend, don’t challenge your friend’s decisions and question the way she is dealing with her problem. Don’t allow your curiosity to be more important than her need for privacy. She may be angry with her spouse or children today, but will still love them tomorrow.


Listen and be supportive without condemning his family, even when he has. Do not confront him with what he has confided in you, once his anger has passed. Do not call her loved ones names or view them negatively. If you want a friend to confide in you, let them take the lead.
If you do not judge, do not question, but just listen or observe without negative comments you have a much better chance at being someone we will share with − if we choose to share. And even if you can do all this, there are still people who may choose not to share and hold their privacy dear. So, if we choose not to share, respect that.


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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