We are linked to Inspire Me Monday, and with Wedded Wednesday, on the awesome Messy Marriage site.
Seriously (or terminally) ill people are not easy to live with. They're hurting, and uncomfortable, and scared, and they are liable to say hurtful things, lashing out against the most convenient target...you, the caregiver.
Life is not a book or a movie; unhappy, illogical things happen, and relationships can be soured, and never quite fully repaired, because of trivialities. There's no story arc that we can see from our perspective.
I wonder how many divorces began from an argument about leaving the toilet seat up?
But what do you do? When you're verbally attacked and slighted, what do you do?
The greeting-card approach is to try to keep yourself reminded that the person who's hurting you will not be around that much longer. It's the sentimental approach, and it's usually not very effective, because it demands that you live both in the now, and in the future.
There are better ways.
First, when you're attacked and offended, wait before responding. Just wait, and think -
What will a harsh response-in-kind actually do? Will it change your spouse's mind?
Not likely. Attacking in kind will cause defenses to be raised, and will be more apt to solidify the position he or she has taken. Shocking someone into seeing their error only works in Hollywood.
It'll thus perpetuate the argument. Adding fuel to the flames is a metaphor that's become a cliche, because it's so very true.
Meeting anger with anger is sometimes justified as cathartic, a 'venting'. But we're not pressure tanks that explode when overfilled and thus need safety valves. It's a nice image, really...but it's wrong.
Catharsis breeds more anger, and more unhappiness. Jonathan Shay, in his landmark study of PTSD Ulysses in Viet Nam, found that veterans who attended therapy in which they were encouraged to 'let it all out' were more likely to kill themselves than those who never received (and acted on) that advice.
Another thing to consider - and this is hard for most to think about, much less enact - is that you're not supposed to give someone else the 'keys' to your emotions.
It goes against so much of what we, in the West, take as Truth. I'm nothing without you...my heart is in your hands...you complete me...those are the messages we get from popular culture
But consider this - God created us as individuals, built in His image (for those of you who don't believe in God, or are not on speaking terms with Him, I think you can accept that we're all individuals anyway?).
We're responsible for what we feel, and for how we act on our feelings, and for what we say.
It sounds like a form of distancing, and it is, and that may feel wrong and almost scary. But that kind of distance does not say you don't matter enough to hurt me; it really means I choose not to take offense at this, because my mental health is important to me...and I can show you a purer compassion when my mind is clear.
(OK, you do lose the supposed joys of make-up sex, but that embrace is just the other side of anger's coin; you're embracing an unhealthy pas de deux that can eventually do damage, through both the lows and the highs. In that dance you're a slave to powers that can accelerate to scar your soul, and tear you apart.)
To turn to Gautama Buddha for a minute (a smart man, and Buddhist's don't consider him God), we find what are called the Four Noble Truths -
- There is unhappiness
- Unhappiness has a cause
- Unhappiness can be overcome
- There is a way to overcome unhappiness
We will have disagreements; we will fight. That does make us unhappy.
We far more often over trivialities than over major issues, and that's especially true in the case of terminal illness.
We can be delivered from this unhappy paradigm for life.
And the way to do that is simply to think before we respond, reflect on the consequences, reflect on what a harsh response will do to us...
...and then, taking Jesus' hand...
...turn the other cheek.
This is important for both the caregiver and the terminally ill spouse...BOTH are responsible for their words and actions. Illness is not entitlement.