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Couples should be aware of 'for worse' scenarios

Everyone has a point where they would bail on their spouse

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

FOR BETTER OR WORSE?: At what point does the "for worse" become a viable reason to bail? Or does the "for worse" mean you have to stay and support a spouse through anything?

CAROLYN: Of course not, since "worse" can be crime, abuse, addiction — though it hardly has to be that bad. If the decision to "stay and support" will end up making you both unhappy, then why not leave? Likewise, if your spouse is making his or her own hell, and it's preventable, then I don't believe you're obligated to get dragged down too.

In a way, though, my citing these is a cop-out, since they're all black-and-white to an almost unrealistic extent. Let's say you're in a mutually loving relationship, and then an accident or illness strikes and you're looking at 30 years of being caregiver to an invalid mate. Is that a viable reason to bail?

I doubt anyone would think so, even though some do; and when someone does bail, doesn't that in itself say the mate was too selfish to have provided good care anyway?

Now shift it a bit, and say the injured mate suffered a kind of trauma that affects personality, and becomes verbally abusive. Does the able-bodied mate still have to stay on as caregiver — and pin-cushion — for the next three decades?

What if the injury was the fault of the injured? Or the mate? Would the cause matter?

Don't beat yourself up if you can't come up with a clear "point" where you'd bail. If it ever does become relevant, life will probably outmaneuver you anyway and leave you with a wholly unanticipated set of facts to sort through anew. Just one more reason to get a good fix on who you are and on who your spouse is (at least, as good a fix as you can) before you go promising anything.

Share this, too, always — talk about various versions of the "worse" early in a relationship so you learn about each other, well before it suddenly counts.

ANONYMOUS: Maybe I'm evil, but I'm surprised to hear you say that the prospect of 30 years of caregiving is not a reason to bail.

I have specifically told my husband that if something were to happen to make me not me, then I expect him to leave to find his own happiness. Why would you want to force your spouse into a miserable existence?

CAROLYN: But that's a different thing. You've made your own preferences clear, and that should be honored.

Consider, too, that some people are still quite themselves — absolutely lucid — but are incapable of caring for themselves. There are also cases where the family has too little money for high-quality care, but too much for government assistance; there's no pat "See ya later" there. Your husband also may not be capable, morally, of handing you off.

I'm actually right there with you on the "Why make someone miserable?" issue. It's just rarely so simple. That's why every couple, every family should discuss "for worse."

Couples should be aware of 'for worse' scenarios 08/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 10:15am]
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