Several months ago, I had a pulmonary embolism and thankfully lived through it. The day this occurred I felt ill at work and ended up at the hospital. I texted my husband that morning to tell him I was getting some tests and having chest discomfort and pain but that I would keep him posted. In his defense, I didn’t make a big deal about it, but, of course, I expected him to come even though he was an hour away. By 5pm I learned I had a blood clot in my lung, and I was scared and still alone. I texted him and he got to hospital around 8pm. I never said anything, but I had never been so scared in my life. I couldn’t breathe and I was in so much pain.
He spent the next four months by my side helping me as I recovered. One day we got into an argument about me wanting to spend time with him outside of work, doctor appointments, and our busy lives. His response showed me that he didn’t want to care about this, and all of the feelings of resentment and abandonment came back up for me. He said he didn’t feel the same way about me or our relationship and even said he hated me.
It’s been over a month of me trying to give him space while we’re living under the same roof and not talking unless I start a topic or just ask him how long we’re going to keep doing this. He says we’re making progress, but I don’t see it.
Last week I was tested for COVID and when I told him I was negative, he texted back and said, “great news”, but then when we were together, he stayed seated and didn’t respond to me and stayed silent. Today I have realized he genuinely doesn’t care. I would love to hear your thoughts. I have beat myself up about this wondering if I had the right to expect him at the hospital back then. And, after 20 years of marriage I would think this is not the way to treat your spouse. I am so glad that I have him and I thank him every day for taking care of me.
You’ve been through some scary medical issues recently and I’m glad to hear that your health is improving. When we experience these life and death moments in our marriages, it immediately heightens our dependency on our partner and can often test the strength of our connection. Moments like this can reveal hidden fractures in our bond that need to be addressed so the relationship doesn’t lose its integrity.
While I don’t know anything about your relationship history, your retelling of these events highlights a pattern between the two of you that, though familiar, isn’t really working for either one of you. It seems that when you’re scared, frightened, or anxious about something, you’ll play it down, hoping that your husband will understand how much you need him. You don’t seem to ask for comfort and support directly, but, instead, expect that he’ll just know what you need. He eventually shows up and supports you until it makes sense for him to focus on something else. When he shifts his focus away from the relationship, it’s hurtful to you. Does that pattern seem to fit? Obviously, if I was working with you in my office, we’d be able to go into more detail, but see if there are any elements in my reflecting this back to you that sound familiar.
Since you’re the one asking me for help, I want to encourage you to look closely at your part in this interaction with your husband. You have been through some serious health scares and would naturally want to have proximity and support from your husband. Going through these things alone makes them that much worse. However, it’s important to ask yourself why you minimized what you needed when you went to the hospital. You said, “I didn’t make a big deal about it”, even though it was clearly a big deal to you. What would have happened if you had said to your husband, “I’m feeling awful and I’m headed to the hospital for some tests. I’m unsure what it is, but will you start heading this way right now so I don’t have to do this alone?”
If you have a pattern in your marriage of being so independent that he believes that you could take or leave his support, then he likely thought you would be fine going through some tests. You need him more than you lead on, so take a close look at why you feel the need to play down your dependence on him. You may have grown up in a family where you had to deal with your pain alone. You may have a belief that only weak people need others. You could have had bad experiences with your husband where you asked him to show up for you and he didn’t, so you try not to need him. Whatever the reason, it’s a pattern that’s not working for you, so I invite you to do something different.
It sounds like your husband did show up for you for months and has sacrificed a lot to help you through your rehabilitation. Perhaps he’s needing to get caught up on what he missed, or he feels some resentment about how much he’s had to support you at his expense. He could just be burned out from taking on a caregiver role. Again, regardless of his reasons for responding so poorly, it’s a pattern that’s not working for him and it needs to be addressed.
Take responsibility for your indirect and vague communication style and commit to him that you’ll be clearer about what you need from him. Ask him what’s happening for him in this relationship. Encourage him to be honest about how this has impacted him. He may feel conflicted about acknowledging his love, his fear, his exhaustion, and his resentment. By the way, these are all normal emotions for someone caring for a loved one who is ill. Our emotions are complex, and we need permission to mention what can sometimes feel unmentionable.
You’ve both been through something overwhelming. It’s easy to believe that your needs are obvious to everyone around you, especially when you have medical concerns. However, everyone handles their pain and stress differently. So, if you’re the kind of person who needs more proximity, time, touch, and attention when you’re hurting then make it clear that this works for you. If your husband can support you but has limits and needs to balance it out with other things, then hopefully he can take ownership of that so he can show up for you and for himself. There isn’t a universally correct way to do this for every relationship. You both have an opportunity to show up for each other in a new way that nurtures both of you.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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