Monday, July 14, 2014

The Turmoil of the Caregiver

From an excellent article in the Washington Post, written by a woman who is the primary caregiver for her husband who has multiple chronic conditions.  The article, written in the first person, captures the physical and emotional turmoil many caregivers know too well.

Living with a husband's chronic illness has a bad effect on his wife's health
by Katherine McQuay Lewis

"My husband, Dave, may officially be the sick one in our marriage, but his steadily declining health is also doing a real number on my mental and physical well-being. Emotionally, I’m the little silver ball in the pinball machine. I’m alternately angry, resentful and critical; then I’m overwhelmingly guilty, so I careen into being loving, kind and almost a little clingy.
To borrow from the caregiver vernacular, I am the “well spouse.” But “well” is becoming an increasingly relative term..."


Julie said...

That was so hard to read, but thank you for sharing it.

Unknown said...

Hello Barbara,

I recently came across your blog after reading an article on how marriage survives chronic illness. I'd be interested in hearing your advice on a question that I've been faced with regarding my wife's recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

We are both in our early-30's and have a lot of years ahead of us (God-willing). My wife has chosen to treat her MS naturally, specifically with diet changes and different alternative methods.

I am more in favor of conventional medicine and would prefer for her to go on medication, but I also respect her choice and am doing all I can to support her. After all, this is her body and she has the right to choose any treatment she'd like.

However, I cannot help but worry about the progressive nature of the disease (she has RRMS currently) and feel strongly that she would benefit from taking a medication in addition to her lifestyle change.

My question: what advice can you offer to a spouse who wants nothing but the best for his wife, even if it means supporting her treatment choice (even if I would like to see her do something different)?

If you'd like to discuss more over email, I can be reached at


Unknown said...

Hi Barbara,

My wife was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in December 2013. She has chosen to treat her disease throughout natural methods, including a change in diet and other supplements.

I would prefer for her to go the more conventional route and take medication, but I am doing my best to support her choice of treatment. After all, this is her body and she has the right to choose whichever treatment she would like.

My question: what advice can you offer to a husband who wants nothing but the best for his wife, but is struggling to support her treatment choice?

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Hi Unknown. You describe a situation that is very familiar to couples living with illness (and also to most couples - but the stakes may feel higher for us). And I respect your respect for your wife's ownership of her own body.

Have a look at this post:

Clearly you are wrapping your worry in love. Can you share with your wife the emotions that underlie your advice? And maybe she can share the emotions that underlie her choice of alternative therapies. This is a conversation about feelings - not about the issue itself.

Sometimes, once the feelings are expressed (with as much compassion as you can muster - for her and for yourself), a richer connection is made. And that connection can lead to greater acceptance - on both partners' parts. Expressing the feelings also strips away some of the power of the struggle - and can lead to a discussion of options that is less loaded.

Richard and I have given each other one card we each can play, any time we feel an imperative need. We don't play it lightly or abuse its power. That card is the "do-it-for-me" card. I got a med consult because he played that card. He saw one more cardiologist before deciding on the type of heart valve he would get. Not surprisingly, we both felt more relieved when we followed the other's advice - and we felt more connected.

Please let me know what you try and how you're doing.