Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Guilt of Illness

The sick partner feels guilty for being sick. For changing the game plan of the relationship. For not being able to do the things s/he used to, things ordinary couples get to do without a second thought. For having a hard day. For eating up savings that should have gone to the kids' college fund or retirement.

The well partner feels guilty for being well. For being in a different place than the ill partner. For being able to still socialize, do sports, even have some fun. For not being able to make the ill partner better. For feeling angry, afraid, and exhausted. For wishing this would all stop and get back to the way things used to be.

What's the benefit of carrying so much guilt? Not much.

Guilt doesn't act as a bridge, creating a conduit between two struggling people. Guilt can't repair health. Guilt doesn't bring laughter into the room.

Guilt turns off the lights and shuts the door.

Two guilt-ridden partners means two people hunkered down in their separate corners, hiding from the light in each others' eyes. Each person, alone, feeling bad over something they had no hand in making.

What's the way out of guilt?

Stand up, hold each other, and jointly say, "This sucks." Not, "I'm bad," or "You're bad." but rather: "The situation we are in is terrible. We are both so sad that this is changing the future we had planned. I'll be with you when you are hurting. I'll give you space when you need it."

Where do you feel guilt? How does it affect you? What do you do about it?


Emily said...

Ah, guilt. I think the things I feel guilty about are mainly these: not being able to do things that need doing (errands, chores, cooking) and not being the person he married. The person he married was able to do so much more and wasn't held back by pain.

Cranky said...

I agree we must bridge the wedge the guilt drives between us. Unfortunately, guilt is the gift that keeps on giving, so the divide must be bridged over and over. Good post ... it helps to consider both perspectives.

Rochelle said...

Wow, so true. Well put. Guilt sucks. The situation sucks. Everything about it sucks. But you're right... you just have to stand together, stand firm, and resolve to not let it get the best of you. We've always said from day one divorce is never an option, we are 100% committed to our life together. But that doesn't mean we don't fight the guilt battle. We definitely do, sometimes every day for weeks or months at a time before we're able to step back again and go "wait a second... why are we letting this happen?" We forge ahead again by each other's side. And let me tell you, when he's fully at my side, there's something about it that helps push me on that much more and I'm able to keep up my strength and do things I otherwise didn't feel I could do! God's strength, with hubster's strength when I have it, is a force to be reckoned with. :)

Anonymous said...

My husband told me a week ago that he is leaving me because I am ill and he can't handle it anymore. Still in denial.......

Toni said...

Hi Barbara,

I just discovered the gem that is your blog! I've been hanging out in the blogosphere of those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I got sick in 2001 with what the doctors thought was an acute viral infection, but I never recovered. CFS is the best the doctors can do for me as a diagnosis. It's been a tough nine years. I had to give up my beloved career as a teacher and retire to the house...and often the bed.

Like you, I've written a book about illness. Mine is to be published in September and is called "How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers." (My name on this comment will probably create a link to the website-in-progress that my daughter is designing for me. Some of the links are working -- including the one on chronic illness.) It's Buddhist-inspired but not intended just for Buddhists.

My husband and I have had to deal with so many different kinds of guilt since I got sick, many of which you mention in this post. In fact, even feels like we invented some new ways to experience it! And, as you say, there's not much benefit to it.

We have found that sometimes just allowing the other to say "I'm sorry" without responding with "You don't need to be sorry" can help the one who spoke first even though we've both learned by now that no apology is due or necessary.

Wendy said...

My husband and I see a therapist to help us deal with my disability. I was sick when we got married, but I could still do a lot, but in the past two years so many things have changed. I shut down for a while and just didn't know how to talk. He didn't know how to talk without hurting me. So we found a place where we could talk and feel safe. We could say what ever we needed to and know it wouldn't hurt each other's feelings.

Now we have a better marriage than we had before. We can talk, we can allow for each other to feel bad. We can overcome. I'm ok if he does things without me, and he's ok if I don't feel like going. (well sometimes, sometimes he worries too much and just has to stay home. I really wish he would get more of a social life.)
He loves me. I love him.
We're getting through this the best way we can.