Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Wife is Taking Out Her Anger at Having MS on Me and Our Kids”

A little over two years ago my wife was diagnosed with MS. The first year she handled it pretty well with only a few minor adjustments to our daily life. The past year has been not as great, and while I understand she is going to have her good days and bad days, it been more bad the past few months. I try my best to make sure I do all I can for her; I take care of all of the household chores like cleaning, dishes, laundry, cooking and outside yard while also making sure the kids are taken care of. Fatigue is one of the things that her MS really has hit her hard with so I even try to give her time to herself so she can nap or just relax. However, she has become very snippy and angry all the time at the kids and me. It’s frustrating as I feel I’m always walking on eggshells afraid if I say something wrong or do a chore not the way she would, than she flips out. The kids often question why mommy is always yelling at everyone.

I have spoken to my wife about this and she says she is sorry and will try to relax and not yell at us, but that only lasts a day or so. It’s like she’s angry at the world that she has MS, but the thing is she is only mean to us. She goes with friends and her sisters and treats all of them great and then comes home and is distant towards the kids and me. Honestly, she is pushing us away, and I find it more fun to do things when it’s just me with the kids.

Her MS has changed her and I don’t expect her to be perfect by any means — I just don’t get why she is now so different towards her own family who would do anything to help her. Our sex life used to be amazing and overall it’s still good, but I often feel she just does it to please me. While I completely understand our lives will always be different than how they were before her MS, I feel like she is allowing the MS to take over her life. I will never know the pain she deals with daily, but I do know a lot of people live good lives with MS.

We are still young (in our mid-30s) and I love her dearly, but I fear that if the kids and I have to deal with years and years of her taking her emotions out on us, it will only drive us away. She has a great doctor and takes her meds, but she refuses to speak about her MS to anyone. I never expected the MS would affect me as well, but it’s hard to be a spouse to someone that has MS. I feel alone most days, and most days I push my feelings to the side for the sake of my wife and kids, but I wonder how much I can take sometimes.

Any suggestions on how we can help her? Any ideas on how to deal with her mood swings? — Concerned Husband

This is a tough situation for all involved and I’m sorry your family is going through this. Clearly, your wife is suffering and having trouble processing her emotions regarding her diagnosis, as well as dealing with the pain and challenges involved (including the increasing loss of independence and accepting a change in household roles and dynamics). It sounds like you’ve been a wonderfully supportive spouse and a dedicated caregiver; you need care and support though, too, and one way to get it is through a support group for spouses and families of people living with MS. In a group like this, you could meet up with other spouses who are going through or have been through similar struggles that you’re facing. They may have words of encouragement and advice to help get you through. You could ask your wife’s medical team how to find such a group, or simply google “MS family support” + the name of your city or town.

Additionally, it’s imperative that your wife understand how her behavior and attitude is affecting you and your kids. Just because she’s living with MS doesn’t mean she gets a free pass to treat everyone like shit, and it doesn’t mean you have to tiptoe around her emotions day in and day out. You and your kids are people, too, with emotional and physical needs that she has to meet to the best her of ability, as a wife and a mother. You have to communicate with her what those needs are and how she is failing to meet them. I understand that she “refuses to speak to anyone about her MS,” but her relationship with you and her kids isn’t about her MS and it needs to be addressed with the help of a professional. It’s true that her MS is a factor in her relationship with her family, but the real cause of the fracture is a collapse in communication and your wife’s behavior toward the rest of the family.
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Please, please tell your wife how you and your kids are feeling, even at the risk of hurting her. The short-term pain is worth avoiding more intense, longer-term pain and the potential full degradation of your marriage. She really needs to know how dire the situation has become and that it isn’t about your feeling tired of supporting her through her MS, but about feeling drained by her taking out her anger and frustration on all of you. She needs to know you are at the end of your rope and if she doesn’t agree to family counseling, the family structure you’ve spent so many years building and supporting is going to collapse. There are only so many ways you can change how you respond and react to her. At some point – and you’re at that point now — SHE has to make some changes. If she is unwilling to do this, you need to think about your own well-being and that of your kids, and it may be that getting away from your wife will be the best way to salvage your sanity and happiness. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I know that isn’t what you want, but you need to let your wife know how you’ve been feeling and that it’s time for her to work on meeting the needs of her family.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

20 comments… add one
  • avatar

    brise November 4, 2019, 9:12 am

    Yes, support group and family counseling. I would also invest in a help for the house chores. Does she have a therapist to cope with the psychological impact of her condition? It is frequent to express frustration and anger in the family circle: this is where you reveal your emotions, and your wife is in a dark place right now. She is probably in the “anger” stage of this diagnosis process. It doesn’t mean that it will always be like this. Family counseling is the right answer because it will throw a more objective light on this dysfunction and she will realise her unbalance, her need to find a long term adjustment to her condition. Can her family help you for part of the chores and the kids’ babysitting? If you can all address this situation as a family dynamics, rather than focus on her only, it might help. You should also pursue activities what help you to feel better. Your own balance, your kids’ balance, matter as well.

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  • Miss MJ

    Miss MJ November 4, 2019, 9:47 am

    Definitely family therapy and individual, too. For all of you. This is a long term, life changing situation and you and your wife – and especially your kids – are going to need outside help to get through it. You can’t do this alone. Also look into what delivery service are available in your area. Amazon; Shipt; meal kit delivery – all of these things exist not only to make life easier, but they can also give your wife a sense of control over things, too. Can she go to the grocery store? Probably not. Can she order groceries or meals online and feel like she’s in charge of that part of your lives? Yes. Ditto for hiring a cleaning service. But, mostly, it’s clear you guys need family therapy. Please, if you do nothing else, make this happen.

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  • avatar

    Rebecca November 4, 2019, 10:05 am

    Breaking a long, long radio silence to point out: anger issues/problems controlling one’s anger are a *symptom* of MS. Her meds can only do so much.

    No, she shouldn’t be taking it out on you. But there may be a reason beyond just being angry about the disease itself.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy November 4, 2019, 11:30 am

      Yes, but apparently she’s not acting that way with anyone else – just her husband and kids (According to her husband). At any rate, therapy is definitely in order, for the whole family.

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      • avatar

        Rebecca November 4, 2019, 11:35 am

        Very much in favor for therapy for all of them. Anger tends to be directed toward people you feel safe with, and therapy will help them all process why she is doing this and what she can do to control it at home as well.

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      • avatar

        dinoceros November 4, 2019, 3:43 pm

        Anger control issues don’t necessarily mean that you snap at everyone. If a person only has a certain amount of energy to control their anger, then they are most likely going to control it around strangers or co-workers or whatever and be less likely to control it around family or people they are close to. It doesn’t mean that it’s less likely an effect of the illness.

        I say this as someone who began taking medication for irritability (not sure if it’s hormonal or just mental health related), but I never snapped at my boss or people I know I *really* shouldn’t, but I did snap at friends and co-workers I was close to or who had no authority over me. It wasn’t me being a jerk and choosing. I just couldn’t control it all day and made sure I wasn’t losing my job over it.

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      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy November 5, 2019, 7:04 am

        Oh yes, trust me, I know way too much about the phenomenon of saving up anger and irritability for spaces (and people) where/whom you feel safe to release it. I have a child who struggles with emotional regulation, saving up all the irritability all day long to release it at home, after school. It’s hell. But that’s another story…

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      • avatar

        Rebecca November 4, 2019, 5:24 pm

        Yes, exactly what dinoceros said.

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  • avatar

    Alex November 4, 2019, 10:39 am

    I am 30 and have been diagnosed with MS for 4 years now. I’ve been through the anger stage although mine was in short bursts of intense anger after my initial diagnosis followed by deep introspection a year or two after where I didn’t want to talk about my limitations / future (to be honest I still don’t, I don’t want to be defined by MS and prefer people not to know but there are days I need to take time off work to accommodate fatigue / check ups and I’ve come to terms that’s OK for my long term heath). I think the thing with MS is we all know, this isn’t going to get better long term, each relapse is going to be more shit. It’s a lot to get your head around as a young, healthy looking woman with small kids. I’d lay it out that she gets specific counselling if you’re going to continue your relationship. You mentioned sex in your letter so I’m going to bring up how most of us females feel a relapse initially, you get numbness in your saddle area. That means sex doesn’t feel like it used to and orgasms won’t happen. She may well be doing it to please you, purely because her nerves don’t work like they used to. You’ll need to be able to communicate on that. If you can both get counselling I think that’s the step forward you both need, but your wife primarily needs to accept the cards she has been dealt and to not push family away. And you and your kids will need time and support to adjust to this change. It’s not all doom and gloom by the way, I can genuinely say I’m happier post diagnosis, I dealt with a lot of underlying depression and I am much more adventurous because time won’t wait up on me!

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom November 4, 2019, 10:53 am

    You need the family therapy. Your wife needs to learn a better way to express her anger. If your wife won’t go you should go by yourself. They can help you talk to your wife in an effective way.

    In the meantime, I think it is okay to call your wife out when she is taking her anger out on you and/or the kids. Saying something calmly and with compassion that stops the anger being directed at the family.

    When she says something mean you say something like, “I understand you are angry but you need to vent some other way. We can’t keep taking this.” You call her out on it each time. If it is directed at you alone you can walk away. You need to set boundaries about how you will be treated and how the kids will be treated. Her feelings of anger don’t override the need for the family to have happy moments.

    Things to say.
    “We don’t deserve this.”
    “I need to walk away because I’m becoming upset.”

    Have you read any of the marriage books by Dr. John Gottman? They are quite good. He’s researched marriage for decades and can predict with high accuracy which couples will divorce. He has found that you need at least five good interactions to balance out one bad interaction if a marriage is going to last. You can guy his books on Amazon but you can also probably find them at your local library. You and your wife need to get back to a good balance or your marriage will fail. Your wife needs to understand that.

    She sees you and the kids as the safe place to vent. There is the sense that you have to take it. She needs to understand that everyone has a breaking point, including you and each of the kids.

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  • avatar

    LadyPants November 4, 2019, 11:37 am

    “I never expected the MS would affect me as well”? I hope you have an ample understanding of what she’s going through with her health and comfort. It would seem that you’re trying your best, however this line had me raising an eyebrow. She’s your wife, right? If my refrigerator had MS, it would affect me. Strange expectations.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse November 4, 2019, 11:55 am

    You have to talk about this with her, and her doctor and you need to set up an appointment with a counselor. For her, for you, maybe even your kids. How do you know she’s nice to everyone else? She might not be. She could be barely holding it together at these social functions, too. And she may be pushing you away, knowingly or not because she’s afraid. There’s a lot that could be going on here.

    Maybe it would be better if you spoke to a counselor to begin with, before you even talk to her. I can understand that you feel pushed away right now, but I wonder if you fully comprehend how she’s feeling and what she’s going through. You seem to be able to speak clearly about what you’re experiencing, and I’m sure it’s hard but part of being a good partner is communicating. Do you check in with her often? She how she’s feeling physically and emotionally? It is crucial that she tempers her anger around or directed at the kids, but your post seems to be lacking a certain amount of empathy IMO. I mean, you do sound empathetic, but “people with MS lead full lives” is probably not the kind of support she needs right now. She might still be grappling with this. Her life has been upended. It stands to reason that yours would be affected, too.

    Set up some appointments for both of you. Start going to her dr appointments, too. Outsource household help. Lean on your friends and family for support as much as you can.

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  • avatar

    mimi November 4, 2019, 12:07 pm

    LW, thank you, thank you, thank you for all you are doing and the loving care you are giving to your family. You are a shining light and please remember (and plan) time for taking care of yourself. You won’t be able to keep pouring out if your vessel doesn’t get recharged. You may have been operating on emergency mode for a while but that isn’t sustainable in the long term, so WWS and think about a plan that involves family and friend support to give you time on your own for hobbies, to see friends, to sleep in – and time to spend one on one with your wife as well. Wishing you all the best.

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  • avatar

    LadyPants November 4, 2019, 12:19 pm

    It’s possible that the wife senses that her husband is mourning the changes in his lifestyle above her suffering, while feeling supported by her friends and family. Remember what everyone said to the LW who complained about not being included in her BF’s grandmother’s funeral? People who are grieving are popularly allowed some slack per their behavior, as should people in physical and mental duress. It’s been two years since the diagnosis, but you’re focusing on the last few months. If you’re aware she’s doing badly, graciously lower your expectations. A few months is not too long to be the compromising party. Ask her what she needs. If she refuses to talk, go with your best guesses and efforts. My business partner’s wife has had MS for 15 years, and -I gotta say- he doesn’t feel a need to plant his flag on every household chore he has preformed (in his mature adult life) that he maybe wouldn’t have had to if his wife weren’t sick. If she’s subjecting the kids to her frustrations, I hope they are casualties and not the intended audience. Be careful that any therapist you choose is on point with your lives and needs, and not overzealous with their personal theories. The kids need sincere help. And- guy, if you’re having sex with a partner who you believe doesn’t want to and is also ill, STOP DOING IT.

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  • avatar

    d2 November 4, 2019, 12:45 pm

    The wife of a couple I know was diagnosed with MS in her 30s. From the beginning, they were insistent that, while their lives may be affected by MS, they would not let their lives be defined by MS. For them, that requires constant medical monitoring, education of themselves of MS for the wife’s current state and potential future state, counseling, interpersonal communication and personal adjustment.

    My suggestion to help your family navigate is to find a mental health counselor near you that has experience (or the training for) counseling patients with life-changing illnesses.

    If you are not already, you and your wife should educate yourselves on her specific MS condition to understand the effects of the illness, and how that will affect both of your lives.

    Perhaps your wife’s MS medical clinic can offer recommendations for education and therapy. Or an MS support group in your area. If you have EAP at work, that might be a resource. Maybe even your insurance company has a health line for resources.

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  • avatar

    FannyBrice November 4, 2019, 12:45 pm

    My sister has been living with MS for over 20 years.

    It affects the entire family, and maybe you need to do a little more research into the disease and its impact, which a caregiver/family support group could certainly provide. As others have pointed out, anger, irrational behavior, and depression are all symptoms of MS, and who she is angry at isn’t necessarily logical. She should absolutely speak with her neurologist and/or care team about this, as they can help her find a therapist and get on anti depressants or whatever she may need.

    Another thought – depending on her ability to function, is it possible you are doing **too** much for her? It’s important for her to be able to retain as much independence as possible for as long as possible. This means maybe asking her if she is feeling up to, say, making dinner on a particular day, or folding laundry, or whatever she is currently able to do. She needs to feel like she is still a vital, needed part of the family in order to act like one. Don’t just assume that you need to do everything while she just sits in a corner, being tragically ill. Remind her – and yourself – that she’s still a wife and mother and a necessary part of your family. This can also include calling her on it when she’s being rude and angry – don’t walk on eggshells all the time, or let things slide because she’s sick. She may need – or even want – you to fight back as you would if she weren’t diagnosed. Treat her the same as you always have, just with some extra work/help thrown in.

    I agree that therapy is an extremely good idea for her right now, especially someone who has experience with patients coming to terms with chronic illness. It helped my sister a lot. If she’s into it, a support group or just a loose community of other people living g with MS may help her sort through her feelings. It also sounds like you are maybe in a little denial about how the MS will affect you personally, and are maybe throwing yourself into the chores, etc. in reaction, so therapy for you.

    It’s a rough road, even when you have the “best” kind as my sister does. (For now. Knock on wood). I wish you all the best navigating this.

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  • avatar

    concerned husband November 4, 2019, 1:21 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions and I was a bit shocked by some of the negative comments. Maybe I didn’t word certain parts the best but trust me I’m all in for my wife. I married this great woman and this is all still new to us so I was mainly looking for suggestions to help her & her anger when she has bad days/weeks. I have come to realize I need to also work on myself so I can be an even better spouse to her. I know we will concur this and will find what works for us.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros November 4, 2019, 3:40 pm

    A symptom/effect of MS is depression. She should be screened for this and be seeing a therapist. Anger and irritability is a sign of depression. Depression isn’t just lying around being sad, for some people.

    I saw your update, so I’ll try to not pile on. But I was very much rubbed the wrong way by your statement that she’s driving you guys away. It’s a fact that men overall are less likely to stay with a spouse through a serious illness, so I think you have to consider that when you talk about this situation. Unfortunately, if I hear a guy talking about how his wife is upset/angry over an illness and he refers to being driven away (when he is initially asking for advice), then I’m going to wonder if he’s got one foot out the door already.

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  • avatar

    CET November 5, 2019, 7:20 am

    Hi LW, Definitely do therapy together so you both can talk this out and really be open with each other and hear what the therapist has to say. She also should meet with the therapist one on one to talk about her anger. It really strikes me that you didn’t think her diagnosis of MS would ever affect you. Yes, it is going to affect you greatly, and this just the start. Another thing is that depression often presents itself as annoyance and anger about things in life…this is what happens to me anyway. I start feeling angry and everyone really bothers me. It’s depression and unhappiness with my own life though. A therapist can help her with this…she should speak to her doctor about this too. Last, you say you are trying to do everything around the house but also are trying to give her lots of space to rest. I have a chronic pain condition and my husband thought this was the way to treat me…but it backfired. He would hang out away from me letting me “rest” but all it did was make me feel like he had no interest in me. At my worst I needed down time lying in bed yet at the same time I wanted him to hang out with me and talk to me and I needed that closeness. Talk to her about this.

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  • avatar

    Emily November 5, 2019, 9:39 am

    I second what Wendy said – support groups are great and helpful to not feel alone –but also is your wife in therapy ?? Are you? I think this would be beneficial for you both. Couples therapy and individual if money allows for this. I also wonder if in her meds your wife is taking an SSRI for depression and anxiety. That can make a huge difference.

    You’re only two years into her diagnosis and this HAS probably taken over your wife’s life not to mention her mind. It doesn’t mean it will always be that way but there is a grieving process for the life you imagined you will have and the reality of the life you got. XO

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