I was talking with friends, and we all confessed we get incredibly annoyed when our husbands are sick. Why is this? I want to be more loving and patient, but I find myself just getting angry at my husband, when it’s not even his fault that he’s sick. How can I make myself feel differently?
Signed, Praying for Patience
Dear Praying for Patience,
I have a few ideas about the WHY and a few ideas about the HOW. First, the WHY:
Women often talk with me about how much they juggle and how overwhelming their to-do lists are. Add caring for a sick spouse on top of picking up his chores for the days that he is in bed with the flu, and I’m not surprised so many women feel some anger and resentment when their husbands are sick. If your husband is one of the people who likes to moan and whine when ill, that can add to the frustration. But these are both obvious, and somewhat small, compared to what I would guess is often going on.
Women tend to over-function. One of my friends told me the story of how she cancelled her morning plans, ignored her to-do list, and spent four hours making chicken soup from scratch for her husband, who couldn’t eat it because he would just throw it up. She was livid. It was easy to direct her anger at him, but a big part of her was really angry with herself. Why did she side-line so many of her needs and priorities to care for him when she could have opened up a can of soup, heated it in the microwave, and let that get cold when he refused any lunch? Women tend to “drop everything” and put their needs last, making lots of sacrifices to find his favorite crackers, driving 20 miles to get him a wheatgrass shot, and spending their last precious moments of down-time finishing the laundry and washing the dishes.
Now for the HOW: stop doing so much. Let the dishes stack in the sink (or call in a child over the age of 6 to do them–it’s a great family value: “when we’ve got a man down, we pull together to care for the family”), let the laundry go for a few days (those vomit-y towels need to soak a while anyway, right?), and do a few small, easy things to show you care. Offer him a bowl to throw up in and some tissues. Peek your head in a few times a day. Bring him a ginger-ale (or coke, or water, or whatever you have in the kitchen that day), and run your fingers through his hair (or rub his wonderfully bald head) for one minute before leaving him to his misery so you can take care of other things. It is much easier to cultivate compassion for others when you are taking good care of yourself. Any time you hear that “Must. Be. Superwoman!” mantra in your head, smile and say to yourself, “What a silly story” just like you do when your son says, “All the cool kids are sagging their jeans!”
Your husband will appreciate the fact that your are not mad at him for being sick so much more than he would appreciate fancy crackers and homemade soup. We do things to show our love. Don’t let the “things” turn into the reason you can’t feel your love for him. A kiss, a kind word or soft squeeze on the toes communicates our love better than a bowl of soup or ground up grass in a plastic shot glass.
If you really struggle with anger and want to be more loving, I recommend two books to you by Tich Nhat Hanh: “True Love,” and “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.” If you’d like to communicate better and be more aware of how you can change the way you interact with your husband, check out my two books on Amazon: “Five Secrets to Better Communication” and “Assignments for Couples.”
I wish you the best, and I hope your husband feels better soon….for his sake, and for yours!
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.