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My husband has had a stroke, but I hate feeling like his carer

husband and wife
Photograph: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images
Ask if he would accept help from a physiotherapist – for your sake. You’re in crisis mode so he won’t be able to change his way of coping at the moment

The question

My husband had a mild stroke several months ago. He’s a 60-something scientist and used to solving everything with his mind, but he has had to work hard physically to recover his walking. He’s gone from a wheelchair in hospital to a walker at home and is now using a cane. But he’s getting frustrated at his slow progress as he wants to think his way out of this and not exercise his way back to health. I feel like I’ve been nagging him to do his exercises and feel more like his mother than his wife these days. I find myself getting angry and resentful at times, because he’s not sharing anything emotionally with me (he never was good at it before, so I don’t know why I would expect it now) and I feel very remote from him. ’ve tried to talk to him about expressing his feelings, but he’s just not interested. Then I feel guilty for having bad feelings about him, because he’s the one who’s suffering. It’s been an exhausting time for us both. It looks like he will fully recover, but it’s taking time.

Philippa’s answer

When I have a psychotherapy client, one of the first things I want to know is whether their dominant – preferred – way of coping is either thinking, feeling or doing. I imagine these three ways of being as doors and I need to know which are open, which are closed and which are locked. Some of us, like your husband, like to think our way out of trouble. Others need to explore their feelings first. Maybe that’s you.

Your husband sounds like his thinking door is open, his doing one is closed and his feelings one is locked. If I was doing therapy with him, I would go through the open door, the thinking one. Via that door, I would attempt to get to the doing door and only by going via this route would I start to get near the locked door, the feelings one. If I was doing therapy with you, it is your feelings door that is open and so I’d go through that to access the other doors. What I would do if I were you would be to ask him – for your sake, because it would make you feel better – if he would accept a visit from a physiotherapist who specialises in after-stroke care, to come to help him with his exercises. The physio could explain in scientific terms why the exercises are important (maybe they help to rebuild neural pathways) and then he could get to his “doing” mode via his preferred thinking mindset.

In terms of your own behaviour, when you are asking him to do anything, do not say: “You should…” but more, “I would like it if… I would feel happier/better if…” Remember, no “shoulds”. Isn’t it strange how illogical our feelings can seem? He’s had the stroke and it’s you who is feeling and expressing what you call “bad feelings”. Just because he couldn’t help it, it doesn’t mean you are not angry that he had a stroke, and also angry that he has a different way of coping than you. Feelings are like that.

For you to feel better, you want him to be more like you. To react more like you. I think he has probably got enough on his plate and can only cope with being himself at the moment – let alone take a leap and approach his life and recovery in the way that you would. Remember, you are different and it was probably these differences that attracted you to each other in the first place. We often want or admire something in another person that is underdeveloped in ourselves and then, when a crisis comes along, we get het up, because they are not more like us.

When life’s troubles arrive – like serious illness or other catastrophes – it is normal to become less flexible and even more set in our preferred ways. It is as though we go into an emergency mode and become more rigid. He is the one who has had the stroke but, in a way, it has happened to both of you, so it seems you’ve both become a little more entrenched in your normal mindsets and are less able to see the situation from each other’s point of view or way of thinking, feeling and doing.

Before the stroke, he was never very forthcoming with sharing his feelings, but whatever he did do sounds like it was enough for you. Now it sounds as if it is no longer enough. Is it possible, too, that the stroke may have altered his personality? You will have to be patient. When someone is ill, we are often tempted to give them advice and tell them what they should be doing. Often the unconscious reason for this is that we may feel that if only they’d do what we said, then we wouldn’t have to feel so much for them, feel their helplessness, vulnerability, pain and their frustration. Remember, too, that for some people, to be on the receiving end of some advice can feel like being pushed away. So, inadvertently, you may be pushing his feelings further from you.

Your role has changed from wife to a more mother-like carer. Before his stroke, you will have felt more relaxed and therefore more flexible. See if you can feel your way back into your more relaxed body.

Source : The Guardian

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