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Exhausted caregiver struggles to support healing husband |
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Exhausted caregiver struggles to support healing husband

Carolyn Hax
| Friday, February 8, 2019 8:00 p.m

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My husband is broken — there is no other way to put it. Years of chronic pain led to multiple surgeries with extended hospitals stays. Physically and mentally he is worn out. He hasn’t worked in two years, so he relies on me for everything.

By some miracle, he is getting better. He is determined to return to his prior job, which he loved but is most likely unrealistic. Our bank account — and my emotional bank account — needs his contribution. I want to be encouraging, despite being very, very tired of being his cheerleader. There is a chance he could get his job and life back, but it will be a long, difficult road.

I feel like putting all the cards on the table. I think we have to admit — out loud — that he is broken, weak, traumatized, and far away from where he wants to be.

Any suggestions on how to broach this without being mean? How to tell him he needs to take a menial job to help out, instead of trying to achieve everything at once? Again, I want to be supportive, but I feel we need to be honest, realistic. And I feel he owes me a basic contribution instead of reaching for the stars.

— Tired

How would that help him get stronger, or at least strong enough to contribute again?

I’d say the truth that most needs airing is that you are broken, weak(ened), traumatized, and far away from where you want to be. At least in your own way, emotionally and even financially. No?

It’s not your fault. You’ve been under enormous pressure to carry the household and his care. Obviously he’s had it worse, but his mandate all along has been to get well. That’s big, draining, painful, but also very streamlined and clearly defined, with no pulls in other directions.

Now that he’s healing, he can widen his scope. This is an amazing development, and his assuming more of a role can be healing for you both.

That’s what I hope you admit out loud: that you are so happy he’s looking to get back to his old job, and will support that as you can, but hope it’s also the right time for you to ask him to help you. Is he open to discussing ways to work at a less demanding job while he regains his strength? People want to hear how they can help, not how useless they are.

For broken wife:

Caregiving in general is hard, but the involuntary type is often soul-breaking, with epidemic levels (95-percent-plus) of depression. It’s worth a visit to your doctor for screening.

— Anonymous

To: Tired:

Please seek out a caregiver support group. You’ve earned some time with people who understand. There is no need to ever go through this alone.

— Anon 2

Re: Tired:

The writer can contact her local government vocational-rehabilitation people. There are services available to help him find interim employment suitable to his current physical abilities.

— Anon 3

To: Tired:

I’ve been in chronic pain since I was 13 and I assure you your husband already believes all those things about himself. It will do no good to confirm his deepest, most painful thoughts.

— Anon 4

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at

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