Being There

His wife is going through menopause and grieving the loss of her mother. How should he support her?

BY: Hugh and Gayle Prather

 
Q: How does one weather a relationship that is not going so well? My wife and I have been off and on for 28 years, but our relationship has gotten worse in the last two years. My wife lost her mother and at the same time became menopausal. How can I show my love in ways that do not seem self-serving or insincere? I love her dearly, yet I do not feel her love, primarily because of the things she is going through. I guess I'm asking for some tools to cope, to help me be strong and comforting while she goes through her anger and grief. I know she loves me, but I think she is unable to show it now. How do I hang in there?
--M. Chavez

A: When we say our vows on our wedding day, most of us believe that we are pledging our hearts and minds "for better or worse, in sickness and in health" forever. On that day, we cannot conceive of a time when staying with the one we love could become a chore. Yet almost every long-term relationship will face problems of emotional and physical health, financial difficulties, sexual difficulties, and a variety of dilemmas that make staying together problematic. And many couples give up.

Our guess is that several things are going on in your current situation. One is that the grief your wife feels over the death of her mother has triggered fears of abandonment. Your previous breakups are a signal to both of you that your relationship is not inviolable. All of us want someone who will not leave us, no matter what we do, no matter how difficult circumstances become. But most of us have something in our past that has taught us that we can't always have unconditional love and acceptance.

There is nothing you can say that will completely erase your wife's fears. She may not even be conscious of having them. Besides, we all know that words alone can be hollow. Also, there probably isn't anything you can say that will truly help your wife's grief. You certainly want to listen if she wishes to talk, but don't worry about trying to come up with the right words. Just be there. The longer you remain by her side, the more powerful a symbol your staying becomes.

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