I often see men starting affairs when their wives get cancer. Men divert all that painful emotion into something to distract them that feels good. It becomes a parent-child issue. If the husband never bonded emotionally with his mother or felt abandoned by her he may angrily or passively develop a child-like dependency on his wife to meet that unmet need. If the wife comes from a background where she is lacking in the ability to feel good about herself she may allow such a dependency to develop being more a mother figure than a wife. When she gets sick and cannot perform her normal role, the spouse out of fear and unresolved abandonment issues will abandon her before she abandons him. The wife is taught in our society and in religious circles that the way to meet our needs is to make certain the man has his met first. If the dependent wife becomes ill and chooses to put her own needs first, the man feels that mother abandonment all over again and so pulls away. In our culture we do not normally allow males to express their emotions unless it is lust, anger, or some other negative feature. To view this, just look at how our media portrays males in the commercials and sitcoms. They are presented as incompetent, incapable of making good choices, and called “sissies” if they show any sign of pain, compassion, grief, or expression of an emotion that is not negative.
To combat this programming we need to instruct both our male and female children that it is healthy to discuss feelings without needing to violently display them. We need to give children an opportunity to see illness not as a weakness, but a fact of life. We need to teach boys and girls how to be self-sufficient learning to do things like cooking, cleaning, ironing, sewing on a button, and balancing a checkbook. As married people we need to talk about how we will handle situations when one of the couple gets ill. Proactively, we need to get the healthcare power of attorney and wills in place to lessen the emotional trauma of having to make those decisions in the middle of a health crisis. If the husband does not want the responsibility of making all those end of life decisions, work it out in advance. Have another person who is willing. That can be an adult child, a relative, or friend. Get premarital counseling that includes personality compatibility questionnaires and discussing roles of who does what. Throughout marriage get wellness check-ups with a therapist to avert red flags before they become roadblocks. If the husband and wife decide the marriage is contributing to the illness of the one partner, do not wait until that spouse is dying before either going for help or ending a marriage that should have ended a long time ago. Often illness is an eye opener to the reality of a dysfunctional marriage and it propels the patient to take healthy action to save his or her own life.
Blessed Connections by Judith a. Schwanz. (2008). Herndon, Va: The Alban Institute
Q: Are you dealing with this issue in your personal life or practice? How are you helping clients deal with this issue? Yes, seven weeks after I separated from my spouse of 39 years I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Prior to going on medical disability, I was helping clients deal with the issue in relation to my treating them while going through a divorce. I let them know I have the tools to make a marriage work and the tools are valid, but you have to have people who are willing to use them. Sometimes the tools let you know that ending something that is unhealthy for both parties is the most humane thing you can do.
Q: It is difficult for woman to deal with a serious illness such as cancer or lupus and build a new life after a separation or divorce. What advice to you have for a woman who are dealing with this crisis in their lives? Do you have a personal story to relate? This is what is helping me heal from the cancer and the divorce. Surround yourself with positive things. Music, reading material, good healthy food, clothing that brings comfort to your body are all good reinforcements. Only invest your time and energy in people who have your best interest at heart. Create a carepages.com web page to write about your illness and add updates so people can be informed about your progress. Use whatever spiritual tools work for you: church, prayer, meditation, a support group, or a 12-step community involvement. Give something back to help someone else so you are not focused on just your self. Give away things you do not need to help someone who could use those items. Go to therapy to redesign what you want to do with the rest of your life no matter how long or short that may be. Look at this situation as a fresh start and that there are now multiple options to choose from for your future.
Q: Is this issue a matter of life and death? In other words, is there evidence that seriously ill patients do better physically when they have a loving home environment? According to Steven Muse in a Yale University School of Medicine study:
One hundred and nineteen men and 40 women undergoing coronary angiography, coronary atherosclerosis significantly decreased for persons who felt loved and supported when compared to those who did not, even after other risk factors had been controlled, including age, sex, income, high blood pressure, serum cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, genetics, and hostility.
Most interestingly of all, researchers discovered that sharing feelings by way of writing in a journal even when no other person was actually present had important physical benefits. (p.27)
This book is Beside Still Waters by J. Steven Muse. (2000) Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc.