Dear Therapist:

My wife was diagnosed with a serious illness a few years ago. While she was sick of course the entire focus of myself, our friends, and our extended families was to give her room and support and help her in every way possible. All we wanted was for her to able to be completely taken care of so that the only thing she needed to be busy with was getting better.  Meals, housekeeping, mother's helpers, and so much more were provided by friends, family, and the wonderful organizations we are privileged to have in our community. We are thrilled that...she is completely recovered with no further treatment required. I have started becoming a little worried about how long it is taking for her to get back to the schedule and responsibilities that she always had. Her doctors say that there are no limits as to what she can or should do and she can go back to living her life. But she still does not want to go back to work, and says she is still not ready to go back to running the house. She says she just doesn't feel up to it and complains of headaches and tiredness. Again, the doctors say that everything is ok. It has been 6 months already and I am becoming concerned that she is a bit stuck and I get a sense that the people who have been helping out are getting impatient. I feel a guilty to be complaining about this but I want to make sure that we are doing our best to get her back to herself. 

 

Response:

There are a few aspects to what may be going on in your situation. Some relate to your wife’s needs, others to your needs, and yet others to the needs of the family as a whole.

Your concern for your wife is admirable, and I understand that the focus of your attention over the past few years has been on her health and needs. For a while, it seems that your focus was largely on your wife’s physical health. At this juncture, since her health issues have been largely resolved you are no longer in crisis mode. Therefore, other factors have come into play, and your focus has shifted.

You are no longer concerned solely with your wife physical health, but you worry about her emotional and social health as well. Additionally, your needs and those of others in the family may be more prominent in your mind. Perhaps some of these needs have been pressing for a while, but have been placed on the back burner. At this juncture, however, these may be clamoring for attention.

I don’t know anything about your mental constitution or your coping skills, but the past few years must have been extremely draining. While in crisis mode, we can repress certain emotional (and physical) needs in order to hyper-focus on the crisis at hand. This doesn’t mean that the repressed needs disappear. In fact, they may become more persistent as time goes on, causing them to emerge more strongly once the crisis has passed.

Your wife still complains of physical symptoms, preventing her from resuming her regular duties. However, you seem to be questioning this. Do you believe that these are only excuses for her shirking responsibility? If so, why doesn’t she want to pick up where she left off? Are you concerned that she simply got used to being taken care of? Or that she had a perspective shift, and is seeing things differently than she used to?

What about your needs and those of other family members? You feel guilty for having your own needs. However, it is normal to have needs. You suspended fulfillment of some of your needs while caring for your wife, but this doesn’t mean that you have no right to have your needs met.

Have you discussed your concerns with your wife? I don’t know what your relationship is like. Generally speaking, however, it makes sense to be open about feelings, concerns, and needs. If you believe that the current situation is detrimental to your family, to you, or to your wife herself, having an honest discussion about these concerns can be the first step toward changing both the current situation and the marital and family dynamics. 

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

  www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200