Coping with our child’s illness

Hi Meredith,

I am married and my husband is a wonderful man. I am very fortunate. We have had a very difficult few years mainly because of my inability to cope with several challenges we have faced. He has been a rock and I am now back on an even keel (with the help of my doctor). And I don't underestimate how difficult it must have been for him to cope with.

But I am afraid I have worn him out. I think he has seen a side of me he doesn't admire -- that I can get overwhelmed. Now we are facing our worst fears -- our child has been diagnosed with a condition that while not life threatening is devastating and will be life-long.

My husband is getting very quiet. I try to ask him to tell me what's on his mind and how he is feeling. I'm wondering if he thinks I'm not strong enough to cope if he falls apart but I feel I am more than able to let him lean on me now. He keeps telling me he doesn't know how he is feeling. I'm also wondering if I am making it worse by trying to get him to face the situation.

But I am very afraid of the effect this situation will have on our marriage. We appear to be dealing with it in different ways -- I need to talk about it and he does not want to. I am so afraid that if we drift apart now the distance between us will be too great to overcome. The situation with our child will not go away and we are facing the stress of frequent medical appointments long term. And of course the financial consequences are now adding to the worry. All that aside, we are of course, just heartbroken.

I guess I was hoping other readers would write if they have been through something similar -- I guess I need to know that marriages can survive anything.

I don't know whether to give him space and just be there -- or to keep trying to get him to talk to me.
Any advice is appreciated.

– Worried, Watertown

Your husband might not know how he's feeling about all of this just yet. It's very possible that he doesn't have much to say right now. You can tell him that you'll be there for him when he needs you, and that if he ever feels like freaking out, he can do that in your presence. Then you can let it go and concentrate on the issues at hand. You don't have to give him space, but please give him time.
You can show him that you're there for him by being emotionally present for appointments and tough decisions. My guess is that he's compartmentalizing a lot of these feelings, but he will notice that you're there -- experiencing all of this with him and moving forward each day.

I assume that you're talking to a professional about what's going on in your life (that doctor or a therapist), but if you're not, make that happen. Also take advantage of any resources that are available to you in the medical community (I'm thinking that there might be a support group for parents of your child's illness). And through all of this, act married. Do nice things for your husband. Remember to tell him you love him. Crack a joke and be playful. Get physical.

Marriages do survive this, but it takes developing a new routine that both of you can live with. For now, just remember to be available and show love. Hopefully he'll begin to mirror that behavior.
Readers? Can you share your relationship stories? Is he afraid to talk or does he just not have much to say right now? What can she do to make this better? Couples counseling? Help.

– Meredith