Caree's antipathy towards my family

Share your ideas about the practical side of caring.
My wife has a disability and is not very mobile. I am coping with the day-to-day problems that this causes but there is a problem with my wife's relationship with my side of the family. She regards all of them with various degrees of suspicion, even though one couple was extremely supportive when I suddenly took ill a few years ago.

There is a problem is her relationship with my sister, who lives over 200 miles way and whom I visit, together with other relatives and friends in that area, from time to time. My sister, whenever I visit her, naturally and reasonably enquires about my wife and how she is coping. Before my visit, my wife briefs me with instructions about things I am not supposed to talk about - her medication, dietary requirements, personal care, etc. This makes things very difficult for both me and my sister; conversation becomes strained when it flows into these "forbidden areas", and I need to think carefully about what I can and cannot say.

I have tried to put it to my wife that my sister actually cares about both of us, and may even have supportive advice. Indeed she has offered me some helpful suggestions which I have followed up. She also thinks about my own health and welfare, and is worried I may overtax myself by pushing my wife in a wheelchair or being over-busy because of her demands. None of us is flushed with youth.

My wife does not see it that way. She sees my sister as poking her nose into things that are none of her business. Oddly, my wife talks freely among her friends about these many things I am not supposed to discuss with my relatives. Indeed, I can even myself talk to her friends about these same things and my wife has no problem with this. So the antipathy is between my wife and my relatives.

My sister can be a little overbearing in her personality at times. She is also very astute. I am sure she has perceived a lot about our living arrangements, even at that distance, and I am equally sure she can tell when I become cagey; it becomes uncomfortable for both of use. My wife asks me to restrict what I say to other relatives, and this may be because my conversations could be passed back to my sister, whom, I think, she sees as the main "enemy".

I am not happy that I cannot have a free conversation with my relatives and need to "censor" my replies to questions. I don't want to just say what I like and lie to my wife when she questions me afterwards. If she were to find out, that could be disastrous. I am not sure about openly telling my relatives that my wife does not want me to talk about certain things. That could make it sound as though my wife is eccentric and manipulative, and make them uncomfortable because they probably think it is right, proper and normal to ask after my wife's health.

Has anyone any ideas how I can make family relationships more comfortable? Is my wife being reasonable? Is this some "woman" thing, which I, as a mere man, do not understand? I could understand my wife being embarrassed about her condition - except that she talks so freely about it to others.
Well, I think she IS being 'eccentric and manipulative'!

To my mind it's a control issue. Maybe that's understandable as if she is in a wheelchair with disabilities, she may feel, naturally, 'disempowered' so she wants to exert control over what she can to 'compensate'.

I don't think your wife is embarrassed about her condition - as you say, she talks freely to her friends.

To be honest, I don't think this is about her condition, because I doubt she'd get on with your sister even if she were in full health. Many sisters-in-laws have rotten relationships - it's about, as I say, control and 'ownership.'. In a way, a sister is a huge rival for a wife, she's 'another woman' after all, and one that has a longer 'claim' (from childhood) on you/the husband. Similarly, a sister can resent a wife as having 'taken away' her brother. (This can be the same between brothers-in-law too of course!)

Without knowing you, or your wife, or your sister (or the rest of your family!) it's difficult to know if there is a 'fair side' to take ,because one could set out either your wife or your sister as the 'baddie' (!) here, and the most probable is that there isn't a baddie at all, just two women who don't like each other.

I'm going to take a punt and say that because your say your sister is astute, the subtext here is she thinks your wife is controlling you/exploiting you/possessive about you/making you her 'slave' re the help she needs, etc etc, and is, to be blunt 'making a fuss' about her disability that is out of proportion to what it really requires.

Your sister loves you, and doesn't want to see your good nature taken advantage of!
On the other side, your wife doesn't want your sister 'turning you against her'.

What do YOU think about what you do for your wife, and whether all of it is necessary, or just that she likes you to do it for her? What sort of character does she have, and what do you think she'd be like if she weren't disabled?

Personally, by the way, I'd probably ask the question 'Why should your wife know what you talk about with your sister?' Personally, I'd just lie, or say 'that is between me and my sister'.

Yes, you'll have split loyalties, but that is the nature of loving two women who don't like each other! Neither of them has 'full control' over you, and you don't 'owe the truth' to either of them about the other.

Well, that's my take! :)
Hi Denis, sounds like you are Piggy in the Middle!! What exactly is wrong with your wife?
Thanks, Jenny, for your thoughts. They make a lot of sense. I think you have sussed this - an in-law issue - my wife would not not get on with my sister even if she were not disabled. Her disability just adds another dimension and intensifies the problem. My wife has lost a lot of control over her life because of her disability and is trying to control what she can. My sister sees my generous nature being exploited and worries about me being over-burdened.

I think I can judge for myself what things are and are not reasonable for conversation. There are of course some personal matters that I would only discuss with the doctor, if at all. Maybe on my next visit to my sister I could consider opening a conversation about my wife rather than waiting to be asked. Possibly this could relieve tension and make a prolonged line of questioning less likely.
bowlingbun wrote:Hi Denis, sounds like you are Piggy in the Middle!! What exactly is wrong with your wife?
She had both knee replacements a few years ago, but the operation was less successful than we hoped for. She uses sticks to get around or a wheelchair for longer distances. She does what she can to help with housework but in practice I do most of the housework for the two of us, and spend a lot of time carrying things from room to room because she finds it difficult to do this herself. I had a health set-back a few years ago. The doctor recommends regular exercise - however I don't think this includes the burdens occasionally placed on me in caring. My sister is clearly worried about my welfare and this is partially the cause of questioning when I see her. I think I have now got the balance right at home, but my sister is not so sure about that.
I had two knee replacements a few years ago, after a car accident, and I'm dismayed to hear about your wife having had such a negative experience. I know at least three people who had either a hip or knee that was never right, when they saw a different specialist the problem was identified, they had a new joint that then worked well. Did she ask to see a different specialist? Has she had any weekly physiotherapy? Did she do her exercises?

I was hobbling around with a stick for five years, in constant pain, yet still running a business, and still supporting my son with learning difficulties and mum who was elderly disabled. This may come over as harsh, but I don't think your wife is doing enough to help herself. After all, if you were not around, she would have no option but to look after herself.
Is she receiving any disability benefits? I suggest that you use some of this money to get a domestic for a few hours a week to do the basic hovering, bathroom, kitchen. OK, I know she won't want another woman in her house, but what's the alternative if she can't/won't do it for herself. You are her husband, not her slave.
(I sometimes nicknamed my mum "The Ayatollah" because she was disabled and would sit in her chair, think of jobs that didn't need doing, and tell others what she wanted done. I had counselling in the end to help me manage her expectations, which was very helpful. Have you thought of similar counselling to manage your wife's demands?)
Does your wife have a mobility scooter so she can get out and about by herself?
Denis, I think your situation exemplifies how tricky it is on forums to give any 'useful suggestions/advice/response' etc etc because we only get 'bits and pieces' from those posting in, and it can take a while for a bigger picture (but never the whole picture of course, by definition!) to emerge. Most posts can be interpreted in multiple ways, so really, anything that people like me 'toss into the mix' has to be 'selected' so to speak - I always say 'if this seems to fit the situation, great, if not, then discard,' etc etc.

That said, sometimes answers and responses from other members can throw a new light on a situation - sometimes we as carers can get a 'new take' or a different point of view, that makes us re-evaluate our situation, sometimes even pushing us out of a comfort zone we're inhabiting. And then, of course, there are always those who have completely different attitudes towards predicaments, ie, the 'baggage' another member of the forum brings to any answer or reply they might make. (For example, I'm pretty 'notorious' alas for being somewhat sceptical about mental illness, as in, I believe in a 'firm love' approach - and I know perfectly well this is because my own mother had MH and that has given me a very low tolerance of MH myself!!!! But I usually try and point that out, so my comments can be taken in that particular individual light - and many, many people promptly discard anything I say as it is so 'prejudiced' - as I freely admit!)

Anyway, back to you.

The whole issue of the impact of illness/disability/impairment on an individual is very 'fraught' I feel. So much can relate, I believe, to 'character' for want of a better word. There are souls in this world who 'minimise' their woes, and some who 'maximise' them. It's a bit like 'pain' - it can be very subjective! One person's 'extreme pain' may be someone else's 'tolerable' pain, etc etc.

My own take is that in the end the most consistent measure is neither the objective degree of 'infirmity' (whether mental or physical) nor the subjective perception of its severity, but the EFFORT that is made to counter it. In the end, I 'judge' people on the effort they make. If someone is making an effort to 'minimise' the negative impact of their infirmity on others (ie, their carers) then they earn huge Brownie points with me - but if they are making very little effort, and not caring about the negative impact they are having (and are, even worse, even totally unappreciative of it - and that can happen on this forum, believe me - if you read around you will see there are some quite 'monstrous' carees sucking the life out of their hapless, exploited carers!), then personally I give them short shrift.

Why do you think your sister fears your wife may be 'taking advantage' of you? Does she not believe your wife is as affected as she is by her disability?

I do think it's not at all uncommon for sisters to worry that their darling brothers have been 'snaffled' by 'pouting princess' (!!!!!!) who won't lift a finger for herself.......I suspect that's a common fear for both sisters and mothers. (Just as family will also worry if a daughter is 'besotted' with some undeserving selfish idle sponger!).

Anyway, as I said at the outset, all the above is simply 'me' and may have absolutely no relevance to your situation whatsoever, so just chuck it away if so.

Tricky things, families!!!!
bowlingbun wrote:I had two knee replacements a few years ago, after a car accident, and I'm dismayed to hear about your wife having had such a negative experience. I know at least three people who had either a hip or knee that was never right, when they saw a different specialist the problem was identified, they had a new joint that then worked well. Did she ask to see a different specialist? Has she had any weekly physiotherapy? Did she do her exercises?
. . .
This may come over as harsh, but I don't think your wife is doing enough to help herself. After all, if you were not around, she would have no option but to look after herself.

Is she receiving any disability benefits? I suggest that you use some of this money to get a domestic for a few hours a week to do the basic hovering, bathroom, kitchen.
. . .
Does your wife have a mobility scooter so she can get out and about by herself?
Thanks, Bowlingbun, for your thoughts. I am planning to visit, shortly, the manager of our GP practice, who referred me to Carers UK in the first place. I can add some of your welcome thoughts to the points I had already planned to discuss. One point could be your suggestion that she see a different specialist. I don't think however that my wife will be keen to go through another operation. She found the last very painful and traumatic. She did have physiotherapy and exercises following the operation.

I don't think we are entitled to disability benefit but that is a question I can ask again. We do have a cleaner come round once a week. My wife does help where she can with housework. She occasionally hires a mobility scooter from our local Shopmobility, where she drives to by herself. All told, I think she is doing what she can to help herself. She respects my right to have a few days away to visit my family, but it can be only for a few days, to coincide when she does not need to leave the house. I cannot go away when, where or how long I like. She could not cope alone for more than a few days. We occasionally go away for a longer holiday together, often abroad. It is especially on these occasions that my sister worries about me.
jenny lucas wrote:Denis, I think your situation exemplifies how tricky it is on forums to give any 'useful suggestions/advice/response' etc etc because we only get 'bits and pieces' from those posting in, and it can take a while for a bigger picture (but never the whole picture of course, by definition!) to emerge. Most posts can be interpreted in multiple ways, so really, anything that people like me 'toss into the mix' has to be 'selected' so to speak - I always say 'if this seems to fit the situation, great, if not, then discard,' etc etc.
. . .
Jenny, I think you assessed our situation very well. But as you say, things can be interpreted in various ways. This thread started as concern about personal relationships between my wife and family. Already you have provided a useful explanation but you will note that Bowlingbun has come up with some practical suggestions about our living arrangements - ideas that I can follow up.

I'll stay in touch and let you know how this situation develops in the coming month, during which time I plan to visit my sister again.
Denis, there's a 'rule of thumb' I've picked up since my (forced) membership of Cancerworld (well, no one volunteers to join that world, do they...), and it is that if you are ever told by a surgeon 'That operation is impossible' all it means is 'I can't do it....'

Doesn't mean someone else can't......

That said, I can understand your wife being reluctant to undergo surgery again in case it just makes things even worse. Knees are tricky tricky joints alas....