Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Changing the Ground Rules: Some Suggestions

What do you do when faced with a situation like Trish’s, where your partner loses a career and becomes a mere shadow of him or herself? Or one like Timothy’s, where your life’s mate morphs into someone you don’t know at all? Or one where you’ve become more a nurse-maid than a spouse?

Of primary importance is to avoid the guilt/anger cycle. It’s normal and acceptable to feel anger at your situation, and, yes, even at the depressed or debilitated spouse. Yet you need to find a way to process that anger, without taking it out on your partner, for your angry actions or words lead you to feel guilty about your behavior. This guilt, in turn, has nowhere to turn except to further anger at your spouse for ‘making’ you feel guilty. And the cycle continues; but it’s no cycle you want a part of. Attend a support group, go to therapy–punch your pillow–but don’t allow yourself to let loose at your mate.

And then I would suggest that you do what you would do when faced with any long-term and constant stress:

Don’t lose yourself in this process; do whatever it takes to stay whole.


Keep up your friendships.

Request help when you need it, whether that involves hiring nursing care, looking for volunteers to stay with your spouse while you get out, asking a family member to keep you company in the house.

I hate to sound like one of those “make lemonade” type people, but see if you can use the situation as a spring-board for engaging in something you never did before.

Start a blog and communicate with your followers, who may also feel alienated and alone. Attend, or–why not?–even set up a support group. Run a fund-raiser to support research into your spouse’s illness. Write a book. Stephen Trantel’s wife published one about her public loss and humiliation, and spent her fair share of time on the talk-shows publicizing it. Speak in front of groups.

And set limits. If, like Tamika, your spouse embarrasses you significantly in public, either learn to separate yourself from that behavior, or limit the number of social engagements you attend with them. If your partner is like Tom who only wants to replay in discussion his ‘fatal error,’ after warning what you’ll do, simply walk away when your spouse brings up the topic again. Don’t agree to head your community’s home hospitality committee if you’re up all night with a sick partner, and it feels like just more obligation you don’t need.

There are no guarantees in life, and no one who will promise us that our lives tomorrow will be the same as today. We have nothing to do but re-adjust to our new situations, as painful as they may sometimes be.



I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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