His mother is sick

I'm a judge at this event tomorrow. You can still sign up with your friends and be ridiculous, and then there's hanging out after.

Hi Love Letters,

I'm looking for some words of advice on how to be supportive of my workaholic husband through his mother's illness without out over-sacrificing our marriage and family needs.

After several years of following my husband's career around the US, we have recently settled into a new home in a new state where he has a permanent position is his dream job. He is very passionate about his work, which requires lots of hours and travel. I admire his ambition and have been very supportive as he works towards achieving his career goals. We have breakfast and dinner together most days, but with his current workload, he has little to no additional time for our daughter or me. He seems awfully stressed out by the demands of his job, has been skipping his workouts, and gets irritated/cranky/defensive very easily. He's gone through phases like this in the past, and things start getting better once he settles in or nears the end of a project. I've always considered us partners and see these tough times as my turn to step up and carry my team. I'm doing my best to be accommodating by picking up the chores he used to do, making healthy meals, setting up our new home, taking our daughter out so that he can have extra uninterrupted quiet time at home to work, and "letting" him spend weekends at the office.

My mother-in-law has recently been diagnosed with cancer. On top of my worries for her, I'm concerned for my already stressed out husband and how it affects our marriage and family life. I've been very supportive and encouraging when he's mentioned flying to visit her for weekends during chemo and after surgery. He can fly out by himself to help out when appropriate, and we can travel as a family to make sure his mother gets to see her granddaughter. I even offered to change our plans to visit my family for Thanksgiving to instead visit his parents.

I feel like he's starting to take my offers and accommodations for granted because last night on a phone call with his father, I heard him promise that we fly out to see them for Christmas. This has really bothered me because we've long discussed our plans to stay in our new home for Christmas, especially since our daughter is getting old enough to enjoy the fun of Santa and presents. I also worry that travel time will take away from our limited family-fun time while my husband cuts back on his work over the holidays. After the call he mentioned the plan to me and asked if it’s OK, my response was “You know how important it is to me that we have Christmas at home but if you've already promised, we'll go to your parents." He then accused me of wanting to deny his sick mother the chance to see her only grandchild on Christmas.

We're already postponing a housewarming BBQ we've been planning all summer, I'm declining an invitation for a girls-weekend away with my new friends, and I'm making tamed-down plans for our daughters upcoming birthday -- all to allow him some wiggle room to make last minute travel plans to see his mom based on her health and his work schedule. How do can I be more supportive of my husband during this tough time without becoming a doormat? When something has to give, how do I keep it from being our marriage and family? How do I assert my needs without "denying" things from his sick mother?

– The Forgotton Wife, Out West

I remember that at some point during my mom's illness, someone told me that they felt bad for me because my sister had a spouse for support and I didn't. It was difficult for me to explain to them that there was great relief in being single while I helped my mom. I could cancel my entire life at a moment's notice without disappointing a partner. Meanwhile, my sister had to worry about how her moods -- and her constant trips to Boston -- might be affecting her marriage. It's not easy to balance a sick relative with anything else.

Really, this is the time to accept cancellations and to take a trip during Christmas when you'd rather be home. His mom has cancer, and it's new and scary. You have to be the supportive spouse.
That said, he needs to be present for you and to prioritize the marriage when he can. And that's what I want you to talk to him about. Tell him that you understand the Christmas thing and that you want to do whatever it takes for his mom. But explain that you want to be his partner, not just his support system. All you need is a focused evening together every so often, and a real plan for managing all of your obligations. You both have to ask, "How can we make this work?" It's a question you should answer together every morning.

Is there a way to schedule more adult activities? Is there something you can do to help him get to the gym so that he feels better? Can he spend more time at home while you get to know your new friends? I understand that the job is important, but when a relative has an illness, we all make sacrifices. Explain that you just want to come up with a strategy together. If it's a team effort, you won't feel like a doormat.

Readers? How do you balance a marriage, a job, and a sick relative? Is he expecting too much? Is she being selfish about his mother? What can she do to feel better about the sacrifices? Should she just keep quiet and help? Help.

– Meredith