Dear Family Advisor

My husband doesn't want anyone caring for him but me, and I resent it.

Last updated: Feb 04, 2010

Three years ago, my husband had a stroke. His speech is severely impaired, as is his ability to walk. We have a full-time caregiver during the day -- actually, we've had many -- but my husband doesn't want anyone caring for him but me. I'm the only one who can understand his garbled speech, and if I leave the room for more than ten minutes he's upset and yelling for me.

The worst part is that he punishes me for going to an appointment alone or, heaven forbid, having a little fun like meeting a friend. When I return, he's sulky, won't take his meds, and sometimes refuses to eat. He treats me horribly for days after.

I feel trapped. Although I love him dearly, I've begun to resent him. There are times when I wish God would take him -- what good is he here if he's this miserable? I can't believe I said that, but I did. How do I go on caring for him when I'm this resentful?

How do you go on caring for your husband? On your terms -- by doing what's right for both him and you. Welcome to "tough love."

Your husband has had a devastating thing happen to him. We don't always get to choose what comes our way; we do get to choose how we'll respond, though. No one expects him to be Mr. Sunshine, but you don't have to put up with regular mistreatment.

First, find a good therapist or spiritual counselor your husband can talk to. He's angry and lost -- his emotional hurts have abscessed because he hasn't found a way to process this situation. You may have to get bossy and make the appointment, drive him there, and then leave him for an hour -- repeatedly, until he realizes you mean business. If the counselor can't understand him, you may need to stay and translate, although it's best if he can go alone.

What has happened to your husband has also happened to you. You'll have to dig deep and decide when to be strong and hold your ground and when to extend mercy and forgiveness to yourself and to your husband.

It's going to be tough at times -- and I hope you, too, will find someone you can talk to and honestly share your feelings. Resentment has a way of turning inward. Your health -- mental and physical -- is at stake. I suggest a caregiving support group, as well as individual counseling.

You might also look for inspirational stories about real-life heroes, others who have gone through the darkest nights of the soul and have found amazing opportunities for personal growth. I like the books Rick's Story, If You Could See What I Hear, and I'm Not Broken: You Don't Need Arms To Be Happy, and the movies "Extraordinary Measures," "Lorenzo's Oil," and "The Peaceful Warrior," based on Dan Millman's book.

Stage a direct intervention of sorts with your husband as well. You and the other caregivers have every right to be treated with respect and cooperation. Start by addressing his rude, hurtful actions. Be specific and tell him that you will no longer tolerate these things.

As a great therapist friend of mine says, "It's a new day." Set ground rules -- ones that are easy to understand and follow, such as "No yelling in anger. Yelling will not get a response." Write them on a chalkboard for everyone to see. Each time one of those rules is broken by anyone, review the board together and make a renewed commitment to common courtesy.

And here's the tough part -- you have to follow the rules as well. At times, it'll feel easier to go back to the status quo than to stand your ground, but no one will stand up for you if you don't stand up for yourself. He may really test you, but we are our own greatest protectors, and you know you deserve better.

I've always loved Maya Angelou's statement, "We teach people how to treat us." If you want your husband to cooperate and show appreciation, then don't give in to his pouting and or not eating to get his way. If he chooses not to eat, don't beg him. A little hunger is a great motivator. Offer him food, offer his meds, but if he gets ugly, wait patiently until he calms down.

In the meantime, you must continue to have regular outings. Do your errands, go to your appointments, visit your caregivers group or counselor, and get together with friends. Create a routine that you look forward to and that shows your husband that life goes on.

If after all this he still won't cooperate, you may have to eventually consider care facilities. Sometimes it's too hard -- downright impossible -- to be both spouse and primary caregiver. We love our partners. We want to be there in sickness and in health, but in the end, we have to choose what's best for both of us.

It helps to know that others have met monumental personal challenges like yours with dignity and grace. Believe it or not, it's possible to fashion joy and purpose from what seems like nothing but devastation.