Dear Dr. Phil,
Last week, I had a cold. My husband, Geoff, was traveling for work for two weeks in Eastern Europe and life was hectic, so I missed the social media reaction over your recent show about love and caregiving.However, when Geoff returned from his trip this weekend, one of the first conversations we had after catching up on work, the kids, our parents, etc, was him asking if I had seen or read anything about Dr. Phil.My husband is a T7-8 paraplegic, among many other titles.
After the family went to bed that night, I read about your show, the one that recently put those of us in the world of caregiving and loving, on defense.I’ll be honest; at first, when Geoff asked if I’d read anything about loving and caregiving, I was worried he had somehow read one of my recent blogs that I hadn’t finished editing.I’m being honest because that helps us both to work through those more challenging aspects of marriage.
But I would have been lying if I hadn’t told several of my friends and family members that Geoff being away for two weeks was an actual break for me.We missed him, sure– every minute– but I didn’t miss having another person to care for.But just because we have time apart every now and then doesn’t mean I don’t want him to ever come home.However, if someone took what I had written out of context, the metaphorical sound bite, I would appear as heartless and callous as someone who has never been a caregiver, so how could they even imagine?
Using soft eyes, I’m thinking that may have been what happened with you and that young couple on your stage. You hadn’t entirely, perhaps, thought through what you meant to say, when you told her that she would have to choose between lover and caregiver, that she could not be both because of some unsupported statistic including a 100% failure rate.Even the best of marriages, between the best of friends, struggle from time to time, and yes, some don’t make it.I actually have no idea what the national average on divorce statistics are, but they are probably still hovering around 50% when not faced with the physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, and social challenges sometimes associated with caregiving– on either side.
So, Dr. Phil, what possessed you at that moment to tell that young couple that they were destined to fail when you could have given them more helpful advice?Were you using “reverse psychology” to convince her to stay?Was it the “permanence” of his disability and the “forever” status of her caregiving that made you do it?
Here is what I would have said to her in those moments, yet I do not have my own talk show and no one asked me. I feel like you could have handled that situation better, and I do believe that you generally want to help people to solve their problems.As someone who committed to marriage back in 2007, I might have said:
“You have so many choices here and none of them need to be made in this moment. Do you love him?Do you need help?That’s one piece of advice I can offer you when someone offers to help me, I never say no. When I feel myself getting snappy, I know I need a break. Take that break. But if he is worth your love and you his, then to hell with Dr. Phil’s 100% failure rate.Caregiving takes many forms, as does love, as does marriage, as does romance, as does intimacy.I can’t promise yours will last, but it definitely won’t if you don’t try.Be honest with your feelings and try to laugh together as often as possible.Ask for and accept help when offered. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that’s the SAME advice I would give any young couple in love whether one is disabled or not.”
Dr. Phil, this morning I had to put a dressing on a wound on my husband’s ass. Certainly not glamorous or romantic. However, once I had the dressing secured, I helped him to pull up his pants as his legs flailed from left to right as we shimmied them up. Our 7-year-old daughter watched from the bedroom doorway, backpack on ready for school. She giggled.“Dad, you are kind of like a doll the way Mom has to dress you in the morning.”
Without missing a beat, Geoff smiled and said, “I like to think of myself more as an action figure and less as a doll.”
Our daughter argued, “No, Dad, right now you are definitely more doll and less action figure.”He smiled, and I remembered that this was part of why our marriage would last.
Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 9 and 7.Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.