In Sickness and in Health? Maybe Not, for Men

Why does this not surprise me?  Apparently six percent of marriages end in divorce when the wife gets sick.

We're not talking tonsillitis or the flu, but major, serious  illness, like heart attack or cancer.

I should know.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, and though my husband went with me to the appointment where we discussed treatment, all I remember is him saying, "This is nothing," as we walked through the parking lot to Tully.

Of course, as the surgeon talked on, telling us that though my cancer was non-invasive, it was the highest grade, which meant they weren't totally sure it hadn't spread outside the milk duct, he kept looking at me.  (Thankfully, it turned out not to.)  Walking out of the office, Larry said, "You were right.  It's something."

I don't remember much about that time.  We had a three-year-old and I was more concerned about taking care of him (and making sure he didn't notice anything was wrong) than dwelling on what was coming.

I had surgery and then six weeks of radiation and was considered "cancer-free."  When it recurred two years later, and more intense treatment was required, Larry was there to drive me and wait until after the seven-hour surgery was done, but shortly after I came out of the anesthetic, he left.  We did have a small child to get home to.

But the next morning when I was ready to go home, I remember calling, anxious to leave, and him saying, "But Phillip is playing Legos!" I was furious, but now, all these years later, I realize he wasn't trivializing my situation but trying desperately to cope with something that was terrifying him.

A new study says the reason men leave marriages is kind of obvious.  It's the stress the illness puts on the marriage, especially if the spouse has to become the caretaker.   (Men are usually okay when their wives can't cook but not when they need someone to actually feed them.)

I was fortunate in that I healed fairly quickly (enough to go our son's kindergarten play four days later).

But I learned something about myself that I'm still learning today.  Like most men, my husband doesn't sense what I need.  And I've learned to do without.  But recently, after taking a bad fall,  running (and not for the first time), when all he did was scream at me for doing it, I just left the house for the ER on my own.  (Of course, all that blood and a swollen nose probably wasn't exactly what he was expecting, first thing in the morning!)

I didn't realize until two days later, when we were in the car going somewhere and I yelled at him for driving too slow, that I got that it was me I should be mad at.  Not him for not figuring out what I needed -- please come with me to the ER -- but for me not telling him.  You know men. They never know.  But for the first time in my life, I really needed him.  And I didn't tell him.  I found it too terrifying to let him in. 

I'm getting better.  My nose isn't nearly so big, and the black and blue under my eyes, while a pretty color, is slowly fading.  And I'm a frequent visitor to the ER because I fall all the time (last winter, it was a broken wrist).  But the lesson I learned is I'm my own worst enemy. If I had asked him, he would have gone with me to the ER.  But I didn't.  I found it too threatening, because, up till now, I have been afraid to be so close.

Don't get me wrong.  He still annoys the hell out of me a lot (most?) of the time.  But when I realized that it was me, not him, keeping me out, I knew I had to stop blaming him, and find a way to come in.  


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