Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist, Red’s agony aunt and the author of bestselling parenting book, The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read. Here, she helps a reader who is devastated her husband hasn't been there for after a cancer diagnosis. If he can't show his love, you may have to ask him to leave, she says...
I am married with two young children, and was diagnosed with cancer several years ago. It was shocking news, but I did at least think it would make me appreciate life more, and my relationship with my husband.
But he rarely visited me in hospital and became cold and argumentative at home. I have since had several recurrences and now face an uncertain future. He said he does love me, but that he has a lot of baggage from his childhood that is making him angry, and that my illness is too much for him to deal with.
I eventually persuaded him to talk to a psychologist, which he said helped, but he only went to one session.
I appreciate that it's very hard for him, but meanwhile I am struggling to cope with the fact I might not see my children grow up. I have to continue working part-time, as we need the money, and I am exhausted from my treatment, and utterly devastated by his behaviour.
I always thought, 'I know our relationship isn't perfect, but he loves me and will be there for me.' Now I am not sure. I love him, or I certainly did once, but I can’t have all my energy taken up dealing with his anger and silences when my children need me, too. I am worn out, and his moods drain me further.
Philippa says: 'My heart breaks for you that your husband cannot cope or come to terms with what is happening, and can’t or doesn’t know how to support you. He obviously has his problems and I do feel for him, too, but your requirements do need to take precedence at this time.
Sometimes the way men have been brought up and enculturated means they seem only capable of ‘manly’ emotions, like strength or anger, and are somehow not allowed to ‘do’ vulnerable, scared, incompetent. So if your husband was already not coping and feeling scared, he’s now pushing the trigger of that fear away, which is unfortunately you.
I really hope your treatments work– I will be thinking of you, willing them to work – and if your life is to be shorter than we would all like it to be, I really want you to live your best life. That might mean you asking him to leave, if he can only act angrily and can’t show you that he cares.
Love is a verb not just an idea; it means showing up and being alongside you. It means doing the practical stuff and being there for the children as well. It means continuing to work with his therapist so he doesn’t dump anger on you.
I want you to get people in your life who can love and care for you. The longer letter you sent me showed me that you are such a caring person, always putting others first and never being any trouble to your friends and family. I want you to ask people –your family, your friends – to show up now. I want them to help support you and your children.
Your husband seemingly cannot do it, but there will be people in your life who will want to do things for you – they just need to know your needs. They may be assuming your husband is there for you and don’t know how much they are wanted, so tell them. Please also contact macmillan.org.uk for further advice and support.
It is not the time for you to exhaust yourself trying to get things right for your husband. He either has to love you practically – not just some idea of you – or he has to stop being a drain and, as I explained, this may mean he has to go.
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