Your "Sorry" is a Burden
You read that title right, and damn if that isn't a hard pill to swallow.
Despite my enormous amount of wit and charm, I routinely make observations in the therapy space that are downright painful to say, hear, and bear witness to. Recently, I was working with a couple where one partner's medical disability was wreaking havoc in their daily life.
The procedures, hospital visits, medication side effects, caretaking tasks, and general crankiness that comes with a medical disability are not exactly easy hurdles for a couple to weather through. From both sides, the level of guilt, shame, and stress that are created with any illness can create patterns of communication that are less than ideal.
Just imagine: you're hungry, tired, in pain, financially stressed, and having an identity crisis all at once. Then, sit down and try to have a normal conversation about going to the grocery store with your spouse. You forget for a minute they hate onions, and when you suggest a dish with onions, your spouse (who is also at 0% capacity) freaks out.
THAT is what couplehood is like amongst chronic or acute illness.
It's something I have to normalize for my clients, and myself.
In the same way that the illness is no one's fault, it can also be expected that the medically disabled spouse will take full undue responsibility for it.
Cue: I'm sorry.
I'm sorry our life is like this.
I'm sorry I'm making you so stressed.
I'm sorry I can't be the partner I want to be right now.
I'm sorry, I know this isn't what you signed up for.
Spoiler: I have said all these things to my husband. Yikes.
And this week, I witnessed a very powerful message from the other side of the coin. As painful as it is, the reality is:
Sometimes, hearing I'm sorry is just another burden.
What is the healthy spouse supposed to say to an unwarranted apology?
Yeah dude, how dare you get sick?
I accept your apology for the thing completely out of your control?
Saying I'm sorry when you're dealing with illness is just another way to punish yourself. It's another way to put people at arm's length because it cements your position as a burden. Saying I'm sorry for things out of your control is a trap of your own design, and both of you get ensnared in it.
The reality is that your spouse is already watching you physically suffer. Imagine the helplessness they feel when your mental health and self confidence wither as well.
Here's my new commitment, and I hope it inspires you to make your own.
I am no longer sorry. I am thankful.
Thank you for being here.