My client is sad but composed. She has tried very hard to make it work out and is apologizing to me for “wasting” my time. My gentle admonition that any struggle to save a marriage stressed by PD was never wasted time brings a shrug. However, we are both aware there has been a shift in the work we have been doing. It is clear that our strategy will now be one of navigating through the shoals of guilt, recrimination, and grief that are inevitable when a couple needs to divorce.
Another marriage shattered by Parkinson’s.
When my client’s husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years earlier, she had resolved that they would get through it as a couple. She knew there would be challenges but the fifteen years together had taught both of them how to play the hand that was dealt them. They were resilient. Raising two active children, building their new home, his reinvention of himself in completely new career, her struggles to earn her master’s degree at night while teaching by day in an elementary school- all of these had strengthened the bonds of companionship and love. She was confident, that working as a team, they were going to get through this.
This was why she was so shattered when the team they had formed so suddenly seemed to fall apart. The first sign that something was wrong was her husband’s refusal to learn anything about his disease. Previously, when faced with a challenge, they had talked with friends or experts, scoured the internet and library for information and worked together to distill a solution. “I’ll learn everything soon enough,” he told her when she asked him to read one of the PD books she bought. She shrugged off that refusal and learned about PD on her own.
It would not be the last time that she would be alone. He rarely returned the little hugs she tried to give and seemed to have stopped initiating any of his own. The man who would sit down with her all through their marriage to talk about things large and small, could no longer form sentences longer than two or three words. More often, he communicated with grunts and flashes of irritation with her.
He wasn’t sleeping well at night and his restlessness disrupted her sleep so badly that she often had to slip off to the couch to catch a few hours of rest. Although his neurologist said he had very mild symptoms and was responding well to medication, her husband spent many hours brooding in whatever room of the house the family wasn’t occupying. He stopped all his hobbies and blamed it on the PD. The man who played golf several times a month suddenly claimed disease had ruined his game beyond repair. She worried about depression and urged him to tell the doctor but he never did. If anything, he seemed particularly cheerful and upbeat with each visit to the neurologist, insisting that he was doing very well with managing the disease.
This man who was previously so active in the kids’ lives seemed not to notice when they were in the room with him. Interactions with them was frequently sharp admonishment to lower their voices so he could hear his TV show. He no longer helped with homework, attended soccer matches, or went to parent-teacher events at the school. He rarely asked about their day and never asked them about their futures- what career they aspired to or which colleges they were thinking of. And perhaps most devastating to her, the kids seemed to concentrate on being away from their house. When she confronted their daughter about spending too much time at her best friends house, the response was “It is just too depressing to watch Dad mope,” she said.
My client came to me to learn how to cope with her husband’s diagnosis about two years into the disease. We invited her husband in very early on in hopes of referring him to a therapist who could be of help. Couples therapy was out of the question, he told his wife. He even fought her desire to get the kids into therapy.
In the end, I never even met this man that occupied so many of our sessions as an abstract entity. And in the end, my client no longer saw possibility that her marriage could be saved.
Another marriage lost to PD? Maybe. As I view marriage as an interactive relationship with two participating partners, I think it may be more accurate to say this was another marriage sacrificed to one person getting swept up in his disease.