There is even a play that has been written and performed around the world – “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”. That play talks about the difficulties in marriage based on things like, who hogs the covers at night or who leaves the toothpaste cap off the toothpaste. Imagine as only you who writes all these articles about the caregiver and the “person in the chair” can, what immense changes are wanted and needed by the caregiver who lives with the “person in the chair” and how difficult the problems they cope with are in comparison to just “normal” marital conflicts.
Sometimes, as you say, it may not be possible to achieve change. This may be because the progression of the illness no longer allows for change or because of one or both of the people in counseling are unwilling to change. But it is change we want and feel we must have. Now imagine the doctor or the counselor who says you cannot have change, that “the person in the chair” cannot/will not change. In order to make a life for yourself, in order to survive, you need to leave. You are told it is an option to consider. You are told that if you want change, it is your only option. You are told you can “choose to take yourself out of the marriage”.
Not getting what we wanted so desperately, losing the hope of ever reclaiming the past is devastating. When given “leaving” as an option, most people react with anger. Most of us who are female, or those of us who become caregivers (of either gender) want to believe that we can change the person whom we live with. We are on a mission. And that mission is encouraged and validated by the general population who want the caregiver to be all-powerful and able to deal with whatever needs to be dealt with without imposing on the rest of society. When the counselor says “or you could choose to take yourself out of the marriage” the caregiver does not have permission to even imagine that possibility. The caregiver probably does not have the ability to go there without feeling enormous guilt, depression and powerlessness.
And so the counselor has to step very carefully and cautiously through the miasma of societal expectations, religious dictates, and personal persuasion to simply help the well spouse see that this is a choice, this is an alternative.
Miriam Kuropatwa, M.Ed. (Psych)
Dear Ms Kuropatwa,
Thank you for giving us a counselors’ perspective and helping us look at alternatives when change is not possible.
It must be difficult to have to deliver that kind of news to a couple and how devastating it must be for a couple to receive it. One of the risks well spouses face in counseling is the loss of that final hope – the hope that keeps most well spouses going; that there will be change for the better. Introducing the idea of leaving the marriage as a way of coping with the future must be very frightening and heartbreaking to hear. But it is an alternative that, perhaps, no one else will present. Hearing it from you allows well spouses to at least think about it, entertain it as an alternative and know there is at least one person in the world who will not condemn them should they choose that option. It must be comforting for them to know as well that they will have your support and guidance should they choose to stay. It is easier to deal with life when you have made the choice instead of it being thrust upon you. I imagine that most of your clients who discuss the option of leaving with you, whatever choice they make in the end, fare better than those who feel there is no alternative for them at all.
Thank you again for presenting us with another alternative way of coping, an alternative that is rarely seen as one by ourselves or is acceptable to those outside our lives.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org