Monday, July 6, 2015

The Last Straw: What Do You Do When You Reach Your Breaking Point? Part 1

I had a conversation with a smart, insightful, articulate woman this week who has reached her breaking point.

She has been the primary caregiver for her husband who has had cancer for many years.  But even before the cancer, their marriage was troubled.  She described her husband as self-centered, angry, quick to blame, and slow to  forgive.  He is also a proficient verbal sniper -- firing off ugly names and harsh critiques with great dexterity.

A few years ago his disease went through a period of acceleration.  His symptoms grew more pronounced.  And his selfishness and harshness kept pace.

Recently, he began experiencing another round of increased symptoms and is about to go through some diagnostic test to reassess his cancer's status.

This self-aware woman has reached her breaking point.  She knows that if he declines, physically and emotionally, and she is in position to play the caregiver role, she will "be destroyed."

What should she do, as she assesses her options at this intersection of love and obligation?

This is an intersection many partners living with illness arrive at.  Ill partners may worry about adding greater burdens and decide to suffer in silence.  Or they may feel that their illness requires that their well partner pick up the loads they can no longer carry.  Well partners may feel it is their duty to willingly pick up those loads.  And well partners may also feel that one more straw dropped on their load will break their backs.

How do you balance your obligation to your partner (whether it comes form love or a sense of duty) and your obligation to yourself?

There are no hard and fast rules in the illness playbook that answer this question.  Each partner must dive into their repository of personal values, family legacies, love for yourself and for your partner, disappointments in yourself and in your partner, and your vision of the future.

In Part 2, we will explore how to dive into that repository and come up with the path that is right for you.

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