Dear Dr. Archer,
I suffered a catastrophic illness that left me in the hospital six months. Afterwards I came home to a wheelchair and hospital bed. During this time, my husband of 38 years became very angry and mildly abusive.
He complained about the smallest of things he did for me, and quickly sent me to a relative for further care. I didn't feel welcome in my own home.
Slowly I have recovered and am walking, although I'm still not driving. I am able to take care of my personal needs. I'm home now, and most of the time he treats me alright, though he's still very careful about what I do.
I'm wondering if this is a normal reaction to a mate with a serious illness? Truly, I almost died.
It is very unfortunate that your husband had such a difficult time coping with your catastrophic illness. Studies show when a husband is critical of his sick wife, exhibiting a bad attitude, this can inhibit or slow her healing process.
When the husband is more supportive, the wife has a more positive attitude, making physical suffering more bearable, and can actually help speed up her healing process. They assume the same results would be reached if it was the husband who was sick.
You might want to check out this Family Law Website which, through their practice, found that for women who had a serious diagnosis, the divorce rate was about 21 percent. For men with the same level of illness, the divorce rate was only 3 percent.
It suggests, Wanda, that serious illness makes men more likely to leave while making women more likely to stay. That also suggests that women are more capable of handling a catastrophic illness than men.
Your husband's reaction is not uncommon. Men are less likely to be caregivers than women, thus he felt ill equipped to take care of you.
Men have more trouble dealing with emotions, so facing something as serious as your illness, he reacted with an inappropriate emotion of anger. To make him feel even more vulnerable was the threat that he might lose you, and that was very scary.
My advice, is to forgive him. You could try having a talk with him about how he felt, and what he did, but honestly he may have no insight into it at all and it’s probably not worth the effort since things are improving.
I'm thankful that you're home and recovering, Wanda. Don't overdo it, and when you're not sure of something, have him do it for you. There is a Latin Proverb that says, "Sickness shows us what we are."
You are a survivor, Wanda, and you've proven it. You were able to overcome a near death illness, despite your husband not being up to the challenge. I'm hoping you realize what a strong woman you are. All the best,