Hello everybody, welcome to episode 185 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question in on what to do in a frustrating marriage.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
I’ll tell you what, this question today is no joke. I don’t want to play this up or dramatize it, but our asker today is in a real pickle that I’m sure all of us will be relieved to not be in ourselves. It’s a rollercoaster and my heart goes out to her as she tries to make some very complicated decisions within her frustrating marriage. We’re going to take our best shot at helping her wade through this, but first, let’s hear her question. It’s long, but necessary. Listen close…
QUESTION: “8 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, my husband was bit by a tick and got sick with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. When he first got sick he was horribly ill and lost his job because he was unable to work. For months he suffered from fibromyalgia, extreme anxiety, depression, and insomnia while the doctors tried to determine what was wrong.
Jump to now, he is still not working, and sleeps at odd hours, claiming that his insomnia is out of control. His body pain is no longer a debilitating problem, but sleep is. Did you notice that I said “claiming”? I say this because he hasn't seen a doctor in these last 8 years.
He stopped taking fibromyalgia meds because they started to affect his heart and blood pressure, and cut all doctors out at that point. I know it’s not ok for me to doubt his disability, but I can't help it after years of me taking on such a burden of responsibility and no medical efforts on his part. The responsibility load I have experienced for the last 3 years has felt like that of a single mom. I’m now even in charge of teaching our son from home while he’s out of school.
After all of these years I feel that I have pushed through responsibilities because things needed to be done. It has resulted in a growing animosity in my marriage. I know I have not communicated my needs clearly, and often felt like (and have been told by my husband) that this topic is too sensitive to discuss. He feels inadequate as a partner and father, and has expressed this. I also have not been consistent with pushing him to get better because of this and because it's another job to manage that on top of everything else. I have allowed it to get this way, and feel stuck because the change I want feels like too much to ask from him.
I know that life will be so much simpler if I were single, but how is it ok to leave a chronically ill partner – someone that loves me dearly and is the father of my child?”
Layers of a Frustrating Marriage
So many thoughts! Wow. As I said, an extremely powerful question that is just such an honor to be trusted with. Thank you immensely to the woman who sent this in for doing so.
I’m sure that most every listener is equally conflicted about how to handle such a thing, as it certainly comes with its layers.
So let’s jump in.
Your Definition of “Okay”
First things first, where are you getting your definition of “ok” from? You say it’s not ok to doubt his disability and you ask how it’s ok to leave a chronically ill partner.
In phrasing things the way you are, you’re boxing up different facets of this situation far too much and disregarding the very real layers I mentioned a moment ago. Nuance is always present, even in extreme circumstances like yours and your husband’s.
Until you give yourself permission to acknowledge those nuances and cut yourself some slack, this will never get easier for either of you.
Your Husband, His Illness, and Your Needs
Look, your husband isn’t defined by his sickness, and neither are your frustrations towards him defined by his sickness. Surely it’s understandable how this illness has had a major affect on his ability to be as good a partner as you both might like him to be, and we can all sympathize with that.
Yet it can be and is also true that he has to work through his struggle to make his life and relationship work; the same way you’ve worked through your end of the struggle to keep this currently frustrating marriage afloat.
Yes, he has a chronic illness and many of us feel as though it’s taboo to put such a thing into question or measure it against other unfortunate circumstances, but don’t you dare sell short the fact that this has also affected you.
Not only do you have a pile of responsibilities now, but you have the guilt of, God forbid, considering your own needs.
Considering one’s own needs should never come with a sense of entrapment or shame.
Living with a Chronic Illness
You’ve both come out of this with bitterness and resentment, but the difference, unless you’re not giving me the full picture in your question, is that you seem to have fought more during this time than he has.
Again, the narrative surrounding chronic illnesses is extreme, and the thought of having one can be enough to drain anyone’s energy and belief in themselves.
But that still isn’t the same as not being capable of doing anything at all about it.
A picture perfect example of this is the woman suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome whose question was answered just three weeks ago in our episode on New Year’s Day. In case anyone needs a reminder, she – who has also been sick for 8 years and whose symptoms happen to be extremely similar to your husbands current symptoms – has been seeing doctors and therapists. She’s been finding ways to exercise.
In a separate email between us she told me she was very close to returning to work once a week in a clinic where she would help provide emotional support to others with her condition. And she’s still looking for even more ways to make the most of what she’s given, not the least of which was reaching out to me for a second opinion.
Your Husband and His Efforts (or lack thereof)
These are the types of things your husband is still able to do and is not doing, and thus, they are the nuances that make your feelings more than understandable. Surely his, to put it generally, lack of self-esteem is holding him back, but he can talk with a therapist about this, and other troublesome feelings that clearly stem from his illness.
He could be going to medical doctors, too (I’ll just leave it at that, because it’s preposterous to me that he’s been avoiding doctors for years). He could be looking for opportunities to work from home with flexible hours. He could work to help with the education of your son. With all due respect to his illness, as long as you’re describing this whole thing to me accurately, he’s demonstrating an extreme lack of effort.
And as for you, I love how you’ve proceeded with this question. I love that you’re laying out all the ways in which you have tried in addition to the ways you’ve come up short. Yet another example of how so much effort and martyrdom can still be destructive if communication, the magic elixir, isn’t done effectively.
That means you’ve still left something on the table, too, which I know may be impossible to grasp. Hear me out:
Single Life vs. A Frustrating Marriage
Single life isn’t going to be as simple as it could be, or it wouldn’t be if you left now. If you want to ensure yourself some peace of mind, whether you end up single or stay together, you first have to go back and redefine “ok”, as I said.
And more importantly, you need to make good on the ways in which you’ve come up short. No one’s discrediting the enormous effort you’ve put in, but until you communicate better, you know you haven’t given every drop of juice you have. It’s time to communicate. It’s time to give a final, legitimate push that will either save this marriage or help you leave it with as clear a head as possible.
Navigating a Frustrating Marriage: Conclusion
I hesitate to sound too harsh here because I know you’ve tried so hard, but you saying that this topic of his illness and how it’s affected your marriage is too sensitive to discuss is one of the most outrageous things I’ve heard on this show. My blood was boiling when I read that, and I usually stay at a cool 51-53 beats per minute.
I’m not sure any topic is too sensitive to discuss in a truly functional
, let alone one that clearly plays a massive role in both your lives. Tell him your needs. Tell him why it’s difficult for you to maintain all these responsibilities, but that you’ve tried.
Tell him you’re sorry for not pushing him earlier, but you’re doing it now and this is what effort looks like. Tell him you’re worried about him, worried about you two as a couple, and that you know he has more to give. Ask him to describe his feelings of inadequacy and help him to recognize how it’s shortchanging his ability to capitalize on the ways in which he can still meaningfully contribute.
You’re not asking for too much. No, you can’t expect this to be healed by snapping your fingers, but this type of conversation is what you need to start repairing this thing block by block. And it’s what you need to know you put your best foot forward regardless of how this shakes out.
You’ve fought this long, and as my friend Eddie says when he’s forced to go big or go home, “the people didn’t pay to watch you lay up.”
Dig deep and pull out one more act of heroism…for me.
Guys, I don’t know what the main takeaway was here. This question seems to have me more riled up than usual. All I’ll say, once more, is that each situation has an incalculable amount variables contributing to its individuality, and that should always, always be respected.
The less we acknowledge these nuances and the inevitable lack of certainty that comes with them, the more susceptible we are to oversimplifying them just for the sake of having answers, and doing so usually just bites us in the butt. Being open to your lack of answers tends to make the right answers appear more clearly. Doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but it’s what I find to be true in my experience, so just go with it. We’re done for now though, folks.
Thanks for being here and thanks again to the asker. We all wish you the best of luck, and know that you can always come back here for more support. The door’s always open, as it is for all of you. Love you guys. Take care and have a good weekend.