There are days when I want to just walk out and leave him to his misery. I know that depression is what’s making him this way, but I still resent him for ruining my retirement because he thinks he retired too soon.
What do you think I should do? I can’t divorce him, because we’re Catholic, but I wouldn’t mind living apart from him. Should I try harder to deal with his depression, even if it’s making me depressed?
I’m glad to hear that your treatment was successful and that you’re enjoying your hobbies in retirement. And I’m sorry to hear about the strife in your marriage now that you’re well again. You may be frustrated (and confounded) by your husband’s depression, especially given your positive treatment outcome, but you might find yourself better able to understand what he’s going through if you consider a common misconception about surviving a serious illness like cancer.
And that is this: Many people assume that having cancer or being married to someone with cancer will be emotionally challenging, obviously, until the whole ordeal is over—and then all they will feel is huge relief. In reality, however, many people—including the ill person’s family members—find that they’ve been so focused on survival, along with the logistics of getting through the treatment (managing the side effects, coordinating appointments, dealing with the insurance company, keeping food in the house, getting the bills paid), that when things calm down, the entire range of their feelings surfaces.
These feelings might include sadness, as the weight of everything that has happened begins to sink in. They might include loneliness, when the team of people who had been involved on a daily basis disperses (both the medical professionals and the friends and family who had been regularly checking in or bringing meals). They could include anxiety about the possibility of recurrence, the fragility of life, or the impact of changes in physical appearance on intimacy in a marriage. And they might include stress from all that needs to get done in the day-to-day of normal life that had been put aside during treatment.
Many people in marriages also feel a sense of guilt for believing they were a burden on their partner—or, alternatively, for having felt that their sick partner was a burden on them. Others are grieving the loss of security they believed they had before cancer struck. They may also feel anger at having had to go through this experience at all, or having to struggle with the financial, physical, and emotional aftermath. And when these feelings become too overwhelming, some people shut down completely, unable to experience any feelings, including joy.
My point is that everyone goes through this experience in his or her own way, and that the feelings rarely follow a neat narrative. Maybe you were very frightened during the treatment and your husband felt he had to be stoic for your sake. Or maybe you were very matter-of-fact, and he was struggling with the anxiety of what might happen if he lost you.