DEAR NATALIE: I've been married 15 years to my lovely wife and we have two boys. Six months ago, my wife became very ill with Covid-19 and she is still dealing with side effects like extreme fatigue, joint pain and headaches. Because of this, she hasn’t been able to work. I have continued to work and now I am doing all of the housework and cooking, as well as taking care of our two boys. All during the day, she calls me to do things for her. Our sex life is non-existent. If I ask her about it, she gets upset and turns the table on me. She tells me how I need to leave her alone because she is too tired. She acts completely defeated. I have tried everything. If I leave her alone, then she tells me that I don't love her. Please help. I don’t know what else to do! —UNHAPPY AT HOME
DEAR UNHAPPY AT HOME: This year has been a nightmare for so many families. Some lost their loved ones to this terrible disease. Some have felt the financial fallout, uprooting their lives. And others, like your wife, have lived with the effects, turning their lives upside down in the process. I am so sorry that you are feeling the impact of Covid-19 in such a visceral way. It is never easy becoming a caretaker when you were once a lover. I applaud your strength, courage and resilience. I also understand your frustration—and even anger—at your present situation. Your wife shouldn’t have to live like this, either. Her children shouldn’t have to see her in this state of depression and sickness. If she won’t get help for your sake or for her own sake, perhaps remind her that the kids need her. Maybe this will reignite her desire to focus on her health. Seeking out medical care is important, but it sounds like she could also use mental health support, too. I would recommend that you find a therapist for yourself as you navigate these uncharted waters. And while it is amazing that you do so much for her, perhaps encouraging her to do a little more for herself on days where she seems able could help you both in the long run. When people are ill, they often become more emotionally needy and almost childlike with those closest to them. Establishing boundaries, like telling her you can’t text until breaks at work while making sure to tell her you love her each day could aid in her mental health. We know so little about Covid-19 and its long term effects on the body. Try to be patient with her and also show yourself some grace. Do not feel guilty for taking time for yourself or needing to—safely!—connect with friends while she recovers. You are allowed to care for her and you don’t have to ignore yourself in that process, either.
DEAR NATALIE: My husband has been acting really depressed since Covid-19 hit. He never was a very social person to begin with, but he did have two good friends that he would hang out with on occasion or play video games with online. Since the pandemic hit, his friends have also been isolating themselves. My girlfriends and I have talked about our husbands, but we can’t seem to get them out of this slump. How can I help my husband—and my girlfriends’ husbands? I know part of their depression is loneliness.
DEAR BE FRIENDS: The ways in which men and women are socialized within the confines of the gender binary has birthed a lot of toxic behaviors. Roughly 50 million Americans over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness and this pandemic has only worsened an already bad situation for so many. The surgeon general even declared it one of the nation’s “greatest pathologies,” right up there with smoking and heart disease. But loneliness is almost never talked about. I applaud you for recognizing that something is “off” with your husband and his friends. Because he may not even be aware of this, you may need to gently bring it up. Say something like: “I’ve noticed you haven’t really been talking to A and Z lately. Everything OK? Why don’t you plan a game night or something?” and just see what he says. A game night could just be virtual, too, if they all play video games online. If he balks at the idea, I would get a little firmer in your observation, expressing to him that you are worried about him. Say that even though the pandemic has hit everyone hard, you don’t want his friendships to disappear. You have to put energy into your relationships or they wither away. Stand your ground on this and encourage him to pick up the phone and text his friends. Even if they just do that, it’s a start. Then, coordinate your efforts with your girlfriends and see if working together can help bring them together. It may be a group effort, but for the sake of your husband’s mental health, it’s definitely worth the work.
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