Tell Me About It: She thinks I need counselling to adjust to life post cancer
PROBLEM: I have been in remission from cancer for the past two years. During treatment I had a lot of time to think about my health. At the time I became ill I was a social smoker and I would normally drink a few beers two or three nights a week and more at the weekends. I never had an issue with weight and could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, without gaining a pound. Although I have always been a gym member, I rarely used the facilities to exercise properly.
My two children are both under the age of 10 so I need to be as healthy as I can for them. My wife has always had a healthier lifestyle than me but she admits she could make some improvements. During my recovery period I made some major lifestyle adjustments and I hired a new person to help run my business so I could reduce time spent in the office. I have undertaken a number of lifestyle courses and occasionally travel abroad to wellness conferences.
I now have a very controlled lifestyle; I no longer smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. I am now vegan and spend a lot of time growing vegetables and foraging in the countryside for wild and fresh ingredients. I have invested in an expensive racing bicycle but haven’t had time yet to really start cycling. I go to the gym five days a week for at least two hours each time for a set programme. I attend yoga twice a week and I also meditate at the end of each day. My body has transformed and I feel much more focused.
My wife and I eat separate meals and rarely see each other. She thinks I am obsessed by this new lifestyle and that it is costing a lot of money and family time. She does not seem to understand that this might buy us family time in the future. She thinks I need to get counselling to learn to reflect on my situation and adjust to life post cancer. She also thinks that I need to scale back on the changes I have made. She believes that I have become way too intense and that chilling out would be far more sustainable and beneficial.
I know that I am making great strides to protect myself and I really don’t think she wants me to start drinking and smoking again, but if I stop what I am doing now and go back to being myself, it could risk my life.
ADVICE: Well done on the huge effort and discipline you have instigated in your life following your cancer diagnosis. It seems you have made enormous changes to your lifestyle and have fully engaged with healthy living but it also seems that you have left your wife behind and she is feeling your absence.
She is implying that you have become obsessive about your new lifestyle and it is probably worth checking if she has a point. For example, how often does she get to be number one in your priorities these days? If you can honestly say that she is a priority, your job is to engage her in your new-found wellness programme but if you are uncertain, you and she have some work to do.
If you want to help her understand and join you in your wellness goals, you must first start where she is at and not where you are at
Family life tends to revolve around mealtimes and I wonder if you can begin to include your wife and children in this pattern. It does not mean that they have to eat vegan every meal but you could make a point of sharing a meal together at least every second day. Are the children involved in your foraging? If yes, they could use their excitement to include their mum in cooking what they have found and, in this way, gain her buy-in.
Yoga and meditation might be something you could do as a couple and, as long as you are not evangelical about it, your wife might make a connection with these practices over time. If you want to help her understand and join you in your wellness goals, you must first start where she is at and not where you are at.
Love involves sacrifice
She is (or was) the love of your life so find out what her deep concerns are. Love always involves sacrifice – for example, think of what you give up to have children – and your sacrifice at the moment is to join her in what she considers to be a relaxing and romantic time. When she sees you make this effort she may reciprocate by tentatively joining you in some of your new ventures. If you go off cycling on your new bike, you may push her further away by absenting yourself even more from her and the children. That is not to say you shouldn’t go cycling but you should balance this with equal time spent having fun with the family.
Your wife is suggesting counselling for you but, in fact, it might be far more beneficial to have couple counselling so that you can both hear the impact that the cancer has had on each of you and on the relationship. Plus, it sounds as though you may need help navigating a future where you can both be happy and connected. See familytherapyireland.com for accredited couple counsellors.