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    Miss Conduct

    Advice: How can I tell friends about my spouse’s cognitive decline?

    We used to frequently have overnight guests, but mental health issues mean we can’t anymore, and my husband doesn’t want me to say why.

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    My spouse and I have enjoyed hosting overnight guests for many years. Unfortunately, he has declined cognitively and has had mental health issues and depression for the past two years. Many family members have been sensitive to what is going on and realize how difficult it is to have overnight guests. However, I am not sure how to respond (kindly) to those people who have been persistent in their requests to visit. My spouse is very private and does not want his issues shared with others.

    C.S. / Orleans

    Oh, C.S., I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Mental illness is hell. You’ve got two options, as I see it. You could talk to the people who have figured it out on their own and ask them to discreetly get the non-clue-picker-uppers on board without your husband’s finding out.

    Your other option, instead of or in combination with the above, is to be vague yet definite: “We’re having some health issues, nothing for you to worry about. But hosting is too difficult right now.” (“We” and “health issues.” Remember that.) If they persist, beg to be rescued from this boring, annoying topic: “Ugh! Please don’t make me feel guilty. Let’s talk about something else. Something fun and interesting!” Don’t lie or make up excuses — you’ll get found out, sooner or later. If there are people in your family who have relied upon your hospitality in the past as a practical matter, research some lodging options for them.


    Ultimately, though, your husband’s desire for privacy is unsustainable. What he is going through is not his fault or anything for him to be ashamed of. But as his disability increasingly affects the parameters of what you can and can’t do, he’s asking you to lie about your life circumstances. This badly hinders you as an individual and a caregiver. What will happen if his situation does not improve? How long are you expected to lie? How will you get the practical and emotional support you need? In the long term, this is the problem you will need to solve.

    Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.