Early Career Complicated by Unstable Relationship 7-16, Lawyers Journal
Caught between cultures 8/15, Lawyers Journal
Despite practice success, feeling like a parenting failure 3/15, Lawyers Journal
Codependent self-sacrifice in relationship to other attorney 9/12, Lawyers Journal
Law School Roommate Counseling 02/07
Is it possible for my roommates and I, all of whom are law students, to talk with someone together so that we would be able to work on our issues together (as well as independently)?
If you are in Massachusetts, this kind of session is certainly possible at LCL, so please feel free to give us a call. If it seemed that it would take more than a few sessions, however, we would seek (after assessing the situation) to find you an independently practicing therapist who is also comfortable with what might be seen as a type of family or group therapy.
LCL’s services, while not longterm, would be free to you as Massachusetts law students. For any subsequent outside help (unless perhaps at your school counseling center), you would need to work out a reasonable payment arrangement. Health insurance would probably not cover “roommate counseling,” although it probably would cover individual therapy (assuming that there is a valid diagnosis) that any of you may also choose to pursue.
This is a creative and constructive idea on your part, that would probably be quite helpful to any number of roommates, not to mention rock groups, group practices, etc.
Plight of stepparent 12/05
I find myself sometimes regretting my decision to marry my husband, whom I met when his previous marriage was on the rocks. His business recurrently brought him to my firm in another state, and we became very close very fast. A year later, I find myself in Massachusetts, working for a firm I do not like, and bearing with his daily exasperation over the tremendous cash flow to his ex-wife for child support, which leaves the two of us with less than enough to pay our bills. Aside from his usually angry phone calls with the ex, my husband devotes most of his non-work time to his 2 young sons, who are with us every other weekend. Most of the time, they either ignore me or treat me with disrespect, yet he is dismayed that I don’t behave like a mother to them. In fact, I dread their arrival, because I know that, for the rest of the weekend, my husband will barely notice me. He then expects me to join him in driving them back to their mother’s home. As we near the house, the kids become even colder, and Tom’s ex, although herself remarried, treats me with hostility. I’m at a loss as to how to deal with this situation.
Our dreams of the ideal marriage, infused with scenes from “The Brady Bunch” or “Sleepless in Seattle,” can lead to unrealistic expectations for a newly-forming stepfamily. Although about 43% of marriages are remarriages, and about 65% of these result in stepfamilies, the process of forming a functioning blended family is very difficult and takes several years; many break up within the first two years. (More than half of first marriages end in divorce, and the figure is higher for remarriages.) Children, other than the youngest ones, typically have little interest in bonding with someone who, after all, is not their parent and whom they did not choose. It is easy to understand why, during visits, they may wish or need to dominate the time of the otherwise absent parent whom they now have a greater fear of losing. The parent, in turn, may feel guilty for the impact of the divorce and not want to deprive the kids of his attention.
Your husband is also unrealistic in wishing for you to become a second mother to his sons. At this early stage, you can be, at best, a benign, friendly or loving presence, not a primary source of either nurturance or discipline. And, while his devotion to his children is admirable, he cannot expect you to totally submerge your needs. You and he must negotiate times when you can be together as a couple, apart from both the kids and his divorce-related financial worries. You may also benefit from some time on your own, or with your own friends; in fact, the boys would probably appreciate the time alone with their father. In the coming years, everyone involved will need time to assimilate these major changes, grieve their respective losses, and achieve a new balance that will permit the formation of new kinds of bonds, family rules and traditions.
Some mental health clinicians specialize in the issues faced by stepfamilies, and some also offer support groups in which you may be able to share your experiences and compare notes with others involved in a similar process. Feel free to talk to us at LCL if you could use help trying to access these kinds of resources.
Daughter bright, energetic, yet falling behind in law school 9/05
am concerned about my daughter who is now in law school. She is a very bright person and did relatively well in high school and college without strenuous study. Now, she complains that she cannot keep up with the reading (doing it and absorbing the material) in law school, and thinks she is falling behind her peers. It’s not depression – she’s very energetic, but doesn’t sit still for long. In fact, reading between the lines, I have the impression she is very active socially and perhaps sexually. Do you know what’s going on?
Diagnostically, there are a number of possibilities. We mention some of them here for your edification, but we do not encourage you to try to make the diagnosis yourself.
The simplest possibility would be that, because learning has always come easy, your daughter never really had to learn how to develop well-organized and prioritized study habits. Others who may be less gifted but who have acquired effective study skills may have an advantage in managing the heavier workload of law school. If this is the case, coaching or tutoring might be helpful.
It is also possible that she is manifesting some variant of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which could account for both her limited attention span for reading and her restlessness. Some intelligent students are able to get through high school and even college with untreated ADHD (or an associated learning disorder), but their strategies for doing so may fail when faced with the need to quickly assimilate a lot of factual material that builds upon earlier learning.
To complicate matters, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the restless energy of ADHD from the manic energy of bipolar disorder, the treatments for which are quite different. Treatment for ADHD might be a combination of coaching and stimulant medication, for example, while bipolar disorder would be treated with mood stabilizing medication.
In addition, your sense that she is “very active socially and perhaps sexually” may also suggest some involvement with alcohol or other drugs, calling for still other approaches to treatment. Many people have more than one of these conditions, any one of which may become more noticeable or problematic under high stress conditions.
Lastly, it could also be that your daughter is behaviorally manifesting feelings of disillusionment with, or conflict about, her law school experience and questioning her choice, and could benefit from an opportunity to sort out her thoughts and feelings with a therapist or other good sounding board.
A careful, extended professional evaluation may be needed to gradually sort out the questions involved. If she were to come to LCL for an initial assessment, we would develop some provisional conclusions, and, on the basis of those, would refer her to a clinician for ongoing attention. Each of these kinds of problems, if applicable, can be addressed productively, but the first task is to collaborate with your daughter in taking a closer look.
Feels “in love” with fellow student 12/04
I am a married woman with a kid. I’m still pursuing my second degree now full time. I don’t know since when, I began to have a strong feeling towards my good friend in the University. We are very good friends & we can communicate very well in only topics. I think I fall in love with him now as I can’t get rid of him out of my mine [sic]. I miss him everyday, the moment we are together, I feel very happy, but every time when we gotta go on our own way, I will feel lost…
There are aspects of the law or graduate school environment and its pressures that sometimes trigger feelings of great closeness, which may or may not be “real” in the sense of extending beyond that environment and that point in time. In this case, it sounds as if your feelings for this friend may actually be interfering with your ability to focus on what you are learning. That’s about all we can say without interviewing you. If you are a law student in Massachusetts, please come to discuss this situation with us in more detail – the interview is confidential and free.
My son, who is in law school has developed a major alcohol problem 11/04
Although I am a physician, I’m writing regarding my son, who is in law school and has developed a major alcohol problem. He is a very bright and talented young man who excelled in a technical field before deciding on law school. Fortunately, he stays in close touch with my wife and me, because on a number of occasions in the past few years he has become too intoxicated to care for himself. When I don’t hear from him, I have often found him passed out in his apartment and brought him to our home to help him recover from these binges. His job was flexible enough that his absence, most often on Mondays, was not an issue. Now, however, he is in school on the other coast, and I’m not there to scoop him up. He’s seen a counselor and attended a few AA meetings, but when he calls on the weekend, we can tell he’s under the influence. Apparently, he’s still doing well in classes. What can we do now to help him?
Your devotion to your son is inspiring, but may also in a paradoxical way have delayed his recovery. On the one hand, your medical attention may have kept him healthier, even kept him alive. On the other hand, your protective actions (essentially running a private detox in your house) may also have shielded him from the consequences of his drinking. In general, people who have become alcohol or drug dependent are unlikely to tackle the challenges of pursuing recovery unless and until they experience a crisis – a serious wake-up call that provides the impetus for change, e.g., “If I don’t stop drinking I will probably lose my family, abort my career, jeopardize my health, go to jail, injure someone…” Now that your son is on his own, and your rescuing him is clearly not an option, he is more likely to recognize, eventually, the extent to which drinking threatens his physical and professional survival. As long as no one gets hurt (and that was never really under your control), a harsher brush with the true impact of his alcohol dependence may be “just what the doctor ordered.”
Law school itself can be a crucible for the development of the kind of problem that your son already has. But on the more hopeful side, a number of law schools are beginning to take a more proactive in identifying and addressing alcohol, drug, and mental health concerns. Meanwhile, you and your wife may benefit from either self-help (Al-Anon) or professional support geared for the family. We do see family members of lawyers (and judges and law students) at LCL, and could assist you in looking at your options.
Pregnant Yet Drinking 11/03
My sister is a respected corporate attorney, but I think she’s behaving irrationally. Although 3 months pregnant, she has not curtailed her nightly 3 or 4 glasses of wine. As I understand it, drinking during pregnancy causes birth defects. She is something of a wine connoisseur, and when I raise the issue she reminds me that a number of women in the family, including our mother, drank a fair amount while pregnant, with no adverse consequences. Am I too worried? Is there something I can do?
Your concern is certainly well founded, though you may be overstating the risk and overestimating your power to influence your sister’s behavior.
Virtually all reputable and governmental sources of information, including the World Health Organization, suggest that there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during, and therefore advise abstinence as the only responsible course. While some contend that the risk of low-level drinking has been exaggerated, we are talking about how drinking increases risk, not contending that it predicts certain harm to the baby. Nevertheless, because alcohol crosses the placenta, it can cause (1) pregnancy problems such as bleeding, miscarriage, and premature birth, (2) Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (or the less severe Fetal Alcohol Effects), a set of lifelong abnormalities that may include low weight, slowed development, learning disabilities, abnormalities in face and body structure, and faulty formation of various organs; (3) withdrawal symptoms just after birth if the mother is physically dependent on alcohol.
So, when your sister says that her drinking may well cause no harm, she’s right; but your concern that it poses an unacceptable level of risk is also valid. Even in Ireland, where until recently many pregnant women were encouraged to get needed iron from Guinness, and up to 4 drinks a week were deemed acceptable, the guidelines now recommend abstinence. The change derives from studies showing that even such small amounts can affect fetal development. Given the preponderance of medical opinion, your sister’s stance begs the question: why would drinking be so important to someone as to choose to take the risk? We might also mention that drinking during the period of breastfeeding also makes for an infant who is under the influence.
Whether you can influence your sister’s choice is, of course, a whole other ball of wax. Assuming that sharing your concerns in a caring way has had no impact, it may be that you will simply have to live with your sister’s choice and realize that it is hers. However, it might be reasonable to meet with her along with her husband (if there is one; you didn’t mention), close friends, other siblings, or to join her in a discussion of the matter with her obstetrician, who may have more leverage. Before acting on any such plan, we would suggest you meet with us or another substance abuse specialist to review more of the specifics and develop a well-considered plan.
Marriage in Trouble, Part III 3/03
While I always feel “in control” in my practice (ironically, domestic law), when at home I often get enraged with my husband. I actually think anyone would get angry in reaction to his manner, which is usually emotionally distant even when I’m upset about something. But he sees my anger as the problem, says he can’t stand it, and half the time walks out of the house, which makes me even angrier. Isn’t it natural and healthy that I express my feelings?
We’ll use this question as a springboard for our third consecutive Q&A column on marital problems. Your question brings to mind three kinds of issues that confront most couples:
(1) Family culture – You and your husband were raised in different families. Each family evolves its own culture, influenced often by ethnicity and environment as well as factors unique to itself. It is likely that, compared to members of your husband’s family, you are overly emotional, while, according your family’s norms, he is very low on emotionality. (This doesn’t mean that either family is abnormal.) As in the case of most strains faced by couples, the only answer to these differences is acceptance accompanied by negotiation and compromise.
(2) Assumptions and distortions – When you react to what you see as your husband’s coldness, or he to your anger, either of you may be viewing things in a somewhat distorted or exaggerated way. Such interactions often involve a kind of re-play of a childhood family scenario. Married people also tend to assume that they know what the other one meant, based on past experience, even when in fact the assumption is incorrect. These kind of phenomena occur to some extent in virtually every marriage, but can sometimes mount up to become a real impediment to closeness. Insight into these processes will often clarify overly intense reactions and many help both of you deal with one another more constructively.
(3) Anger – In a sense, you’re both right. If you kept all your angry feelings to yourself, or tried to pretend they were not there, marital closeness would deteriorate and you might develop well develop symptoms of some kind (such as headaches, backaches, gastrointestinal distress). On the other hand, there has been less and less support in the field for the notion that one must always vent anger, and get all angry thoughts and feelings out of one’s system (even when potentially very hurtful). The “happy medium” here is to acknowledge your anger to yourself, choose an appropriate moment, and express it relatively calmly and respectfully. In this way, your spouse may actually be able to listen. When arguments begin to get out of hand, a mutual “time-out” (perhaps an hour to cool off) may be a good idea. At the same time, if your husband leaves the house at any expression of feeling on your part, it would be reasonable to ask that he try to understand how it is that he is so intimidated by your feelings. Finally, anger frequently results from one’s interpretation of interpersonal events. Sometimes, considering an alternative explanation (e.g., from “he doesn’t care about me” to “he is too tired”) can make a big difference in how you feel.
This is the sort of examination of thoughts and feelings that would come up in couple therapy. If you choose to pursue couple therapy, we advise getting a referral from a friend who has had a good experience, or from a trusted health or mental health provider (which can be LCL staff).
Marriage in Trouble, Parts I & II 12/02 & 12/03
Although my wife and I both have law degrees, our problems are not in our careers but in our marriage of over 20 years. I suspect that she’s already decided to leave me after our youngest child leaves for college. She’s always sulking and keeping to herself lately, and acts like a martyr when I come home a little late or don’t give her just the right gift for a special occasion. It seems that nothing I do makes the grade with her, and when she’s wrong she won’t admit it. She says I don’t pay attention to her needs, but she never asks me how my day has been. I love her and don’t want to give up, but how can I get her to care about me again?
PART I (orig pub 12/02): It sounds as if you and your wife are living in the same physical world but very different mental worlds. No doubt, you would both prefer a harmonious, sharing relationship. But your perspectives on the situation are very different, and neither of you is apparently having much success (or maybe much interest) in seeing things through the other’s eyes.
Through your eyes, your wife is rejecting you, belittling your efforts, dismissing the rightness of your point of view, and showing no concern for your needs, while you are trying hard to be a good husband. Through her eyes (or, more accurately, her perspective as inferred from your description), you are the one who doesn’t care, as reflected in your choice of gifts, your tardiness in returning home, perhaps your need to prove yourself right, etc. It is quite possible that she has withdrawn from you not to reject you but because she herself feels hurt and disappointed.
Of course, these hunches are overly simplified and may be off the mark. (That’s why this column is meant as informational rather than therapeutic.) But it is often striking how even people who deal very effectively and insightfully with friends and colleagues have great difficulty gaining perspective on their intimate relationships and get stalled in their attempts to resolve conflict. People who come into couple therapy often imagine that they will prove that they are “right.” In fact, “winning” the argument is never the route to resolving marital conflict. Notice, too, that you are labeling your wife (e.g., as a “martyr”) and making assumptions about her feelings and motives as if you can read her mind. (And she is likely doing some of the same with you.)
If you would like to get a sense of how a couple therapist might approach these matters, you might read Aaron Beck’s Love is Never Enough, which exemplifies the Cognitive Therapy approach. More to come in a future column, and, as always, remember that LCL’s clinical staff is available to consult with you and, if indicated, make a referral.
PART II (orig pub 1/03): We began last month to describe some key processes that often derail intimate relationships and become foci of couple therapy. Many of these seem to be present in the above example. Today’s follow-up concerns communication.
“Communication” as a term has become a cliché and a platform for humor about silly therapists. Nevertheless, miscommunication is present to some extent in all relationships, and abounds in poorly functioning marriages. When first getting to know your future spouse, you likely listened carefully to what s/he had to say, and also to the words coming out of your own mouth. Years into marriage, however, both partners tend to assume that they already know what the other is saying (not always accurately), and to react to that. We may misinterpret not only the words but also the tone of voice and body language. On the other hand, sometimes the distortion is not in the recipient of communication but the sender, who may have little idea how s/he is coming across. As miscommunications pile up, resentments and distance tend to mount.
How does a couple try to rectify such an impasse? This is where some of those approaches you’ve seen ridiculed on TV may be helpful. Essentially, you can try behaving as if your spouse has a different native language, and yet you want very much to understand and be understood. One person speaks, while the other listens and then reflects back what they think they heard. The speaker corrects any distortions resulting from unclear wording or distortions in listening. Each person has a turn to speak, and to show an understanding for what the other has said. (This does not mean that they necessarily agree, only that each can see how things look through the eyes of the other and has received a clear message.)
Two other suggestions: (1) You may have heard of the notion of “I-statements.” That is, it is much more effective to say, “I felt angry when you arrived late for our appointment,” than to say, “You’re too selfish to care that I’m sitting there wasting my time.” How you felt is less debatable, and more amenable to seeking solutions, than a judgment or labeling of your partner. (2) We’re all too busy these days, so it helps to schedule time to talk. Lawyers, in particular, often tend to prioritize work over family, friends, and self-care. Some couples plan a weekly “meeting,” reserving as little as an hour a week during which the spouses give one another their complete attention, with no distractions or interruptions.
Though these concepts are not awfully complex, it is often very tough to make inroads in longstanding impaired communication patterns, and that’s one reason to consider an experienced therapist. (We can help you find one.) We will consider other impediments to marital functioning in future column (SEE NEXT Q&A.)
Overidentifying with Teenage Daughter’s Problems 10/01
have been under a great deal of stress lately. Our firm is not doing well financially and my marriage is strained. I have a young teenage daughter who is experiencing social problems, and I find that I am identifying with those issues to an excessive extent, to the point where I have become much too directly involved. I have done some things that have made her uncomfortable and me ashamed of myself. How can I separate myself from her issues, parent her more effectively (we have always been so close and still are, but she’s now stressed and worried about me, as well as concerned about the impact of my behavior on her life), and handle all of these stresses more effectively? I know that counseling is an option that I need to explore, but I don’t know if I can afford it right now.
It sounds as if your life is challenged on all fronts. Among the problems you face, your apparently over-involvement with your daughter seems to be your greatest source of distress and, you imply, some kind of inappropriate behavior. You also sound like someone with significant experience in the realm of psychotherapy, in your ability to identify your issues and the kinds of change that are needed. As you indicate, one of the goals would be to create more of a psychological boundary between your daughter’s concerns and your own. Sometimes this predicament arises when the parent has a residue of unresolved problems that arose at the age that the child has now reached.
Counseling/psychotherapy is more than an option for you at this point; it seems virtually essential if you want to prevent further deterioration of your relationships with your husband, daughter, and job. It is true that there is much less low-fee treatment around than there was years ago, but it is likely that we can help you find something that you can afford. LCL is aware of various subsidized agencies, and under certain circumstances we may be able to loan you funds to help cover treatment costs. So, we would encourage you to come to us for confidential evaluation and referral — it’s what we do.
Work Affected by Caring for Elderly Parents 9/01
I am a litigation attorney in a mid-size firm and have been in practice for several years, in good standing with the bar, with no client complaints to date. I feel fortunate in that I generally like what I do and have been relatively successful. My current concerns have more to do with issues around aging parents than legal practice issues. My elderly parents want to relocate to Boston to be closer to me in their advancing years. This is a mixed blessing – it makes visiting easier but also increases my sense of responsibility for their welfare. I am not sure how to handle that, as I am already feeling overly taxed by personal, family, and professional responsibilities. Both parents have medical, legal, and psychological needs that require some management, matters that we’ve never discussed. As our roles reverse and I become, in essence, their parent, I find myself feeling uncomfortable and guilty. I am an only child, meaning that there are no siblings with whom to share the decision-making. My wife is as helpful as she can be, but it is not the same kind of connection or burden for her. Lately I’ve noticed that I am more easily frustrated and distracted, not sleeping as well, and getting into more arguments with my wife. My work is also not up to its usual level; I almost missed a filing deadline yesterday on an important case, and that scared me. Do you have any suggestions on dealing with all this?
First and foremost, you are not alone. You are now in a stage of life where many of us must confront these issues, and it is normal to experience the type of anxiety that you describe, especially in dealing with these pressures for the first time. It is certainly true that, as the only child, your responsibilities and reactions to them are intensified. We wonder, however, whether you’ve really let other family members and friends know how overwhelmed you are feeling. Often, they can be wonderful supports.
In addition, there are many private and community resources available to help both you and your parents by providing support and information, as well as relieving some of the pressures. We would suggest that you call LCL and make an appointment to meet with a clinician, who can further evaluate your particular questions and needs, put you in touch with various resources, and develop a strategy for negotiating your new role with your parents.
NOTE: LCL’s Spring 2003 newsletter (“briefings”) focused on these concerns, with more specific information. Quite soon we expect to have our old newsletter archived on this site (maybe already, by the time you read this) — please look for that issue.
Cutting Back to Be with Kids=Ending Career? 7/99
I wanted to ask your opinion on a career-related matter. I am a woman attorney, working at a medium-size general practice firm for the past six years. Ever since the birth of my second child, I find that I want to be at home more. Although I really do like practicing law, I feel a lot of anguish about missing out on so much home life with my kids. I am thinking about cutting back to a half-time position, but my colleagues think it would end my career. Do you agree?
You are in an exceedingly difficult situation, faced by many parent-attorneys of both genders. There are no easy or right answers. However, LCL does have an opinion and it is that you not face this decision alone, especially as the consequences can be far reaching.
For this reason, we recommend networking (formally or informally) with others who have been in the same position. Even if you can’t spare much time, a few phone conversations with other attorney moms can make an enormous difference. You might start by calling parenting attorneys (especially women, who are often at a further disadvantage because of their gender) already in your circle, or whom you know by proxy. Ask how they have managed, and for any recommendations that they may have. Ask, too, about regrets, or mistakes that they believe they have made. Overall, you will probably find that parenting attorneys are quite receptive to sharing their work/family experiences with others in the same boat.
To network more formally, the Mass Bar Association (617/338-0500) is an invaluable resource, offering a mentor program specifically for parent-attorneys, and home to a “Family and Work” subcommittee. You can also make new contacts through the Women’s Bar Association (617/695-1851), which is “committed to the full and equal participation of women in the legal profession and in a just society…” The WBA’s membership is composed of almost entirely women, many (if not most) of whom will be mothers at some point.
The optimal work-family balance varies from person to person. A process of sorting things out with supportive others who understand the dilemma at hand can facilitate your finding a balance that affords you relative peace of mind.
Depressing Divorce Process 11/98
My sole practice (specializing in worker’s compensation) has suffered greatly since my wife told me that she wants a divorce. I’ve known that our communication has been poor over the years, but her current stance completely took me by surprise. I’m in the process of moving to a friend’s apartment, and although I still see the kids, I am missing our daily routines together and am in a lot of emotional pain. My concentration is shot, I’m losing sleep, and I’m blowing up at people who don’t deserve it. Should I be taking antidepressants or something?
There is no medication that can or should take away the pain of a dissolving marriage and family. Separation and divorce, although more common these days, are among the most wrenching and stressful experiences, often triggering feelings of loss and failure, and shaking one’s sense of role and identity. Compounding the situation are the financial strains and the level of conflict, blame, and hurt that may accompany the process. The impact on children, mirrored in your own pain about your relationship with them, is very significant and sad.
Although there is no “right” way to handle your situation, we do have some general recommendations:
Support — This is a time to stay close with family and friends. A therapist or support group can also help you express how you feel;
Structure — At a time of great flux in your thoughts, feelings and domestic life, try to institute daily routines and activity, including in your work;
Children — Give your kids plenty of attention, preferably at predictable times, and adapt your rituals with them to the new situation. Avoid putting them in the middle by burdening them with your feelings about your wife, or by trying to communicate with her through them. Remind them often that they did not cause the breakup and that both parents will always love them;
War is Hell — While you must acknowledge your anger (though not necessarily vent it at your wife), it will be best in the long run to reduce conflict and unforgivable hurts. You and your spouse will remain co-parents and should minimize the scars and bitterness of an all-out war. For many couples, professional mediation services by an appropriately trained attorney or therapist is an approach that can save money, aggravation and unnecessary polarization.
If you find yourself seriously depressed for an extended time despite getting the kinds of support noted above, you may want to consider antidepressants. In any case, LCL is available to help you think through the situation and identify supportive resources. Just call for an appointment.
Spouse’s Chronic Illness Affects “Rising Star” 4/09
It has now been over a year since my husband was diagnosed with what is likely to be a permanent medical condition that has prematurely ended his accounting career. I am considered a “rising star” at a large law firm, able so far to keep putting in long hours and churning out many billable hours of good work. But, to be honest, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. I barely sleep, and often feel overwhelmed. Although my husband does all he can around the house and with the kids, it feels as if our marital relationship is barely there. I try to put on a happy face, but I often find myself feeling angry, and then guilty. I feel so drained that I fear my rising star at the firm will come crashing down, and am not sure where to turn.
The loss of your home life as you formerly knew it is an enormous and very stressful change, especially if/when there is little hope of returning to the way things were. You, and all the members of your family, are dealing with a significant loss; and it is understandable and normal for you to feel anger, not to mention the emotional turmoil of the grieving process. For all of us, mature love and marriage, in contrast to early attraction and commitment, requires attention, motivation, sacrifice and effort, which is difficult enough. But for you (and your husband), the adjustment demanded by these new circumstances, is particularly difficult.
The most obvious comment is that a person in your position needs plenty of support, and it is important for you to reach out to friends and family for emotional as well as practical assistance to help reduce your burden. It will be important for you to achieve a new kind of balance in your life, including time to get away from both home- and work-based stresses, in order to pursue interests and activities that replenish and renew your inner resources.
You and your husband must ultimately face your plight with a combination of hope and realism, addressing the question of what kinds of closeness are feasible; a new kind of bond develops from your shared battle with his illness. Though it may be difficult, there is a need for each spouse to ask the other for needed support, and to express (without judgment) a range of feelings including anger , frustration, sadness, and guilt — you are likely to feel guilty for any self-focused strivings, and he for his dependency on you. One of the goals is to seek ways to “have a life,” both together and individually, that is not illness-focused.
Even if you make good progress in those efforts, the demands of work life at a large law firm can be all-consuming, and may not be workable in the long run. To regain a sense of control over your life and set realistic expectations for yourself, it may be best to deal directly with the effects of your changed family circumstances on your career. You might find it useful to confer with someone along the lines of an executive coach concerning how to best approach this matter with the firm, or with a career coach about whether and how to redirect your career. As you probably know, LCL can help you with the search for resources.
Two books that you may also find helpful are: Surviving Your Spouse’s Chronic Illness: A Compassionate Guide by Chris McGonigle and Beyond Chaos: One Man’s Journey Alongside His Chronically Ill Wife by Gregg Piburn.