A 55 year old man came to my office, asking me to help his wife. I thought it odd his wife didn’t accompany him to the consultation. It soon made sense why he’d come alone.
Mrs. L had always been socially fearful. Some might call it being shy or retiring, but it was much more. They had few friends, spent nearly every evening home, and settled into a predictable and uneventful life. Despite these limitations, the couple developed a comfortable psychological equilibrium.
When Mrs. L turned 52, her shyness escalated. She became completely avoidant of people; stopped answering the telephone; refused to go to a movie or local store; and the couple ceased dining out. In fact, Mrs. L’s avoidance became so extreme, she spent all her time in the bedroom. The thought of being anywhere else, even in other rooms of her house, aroused panic-level anxiety. Her condition had escalated to severe, incapacitating agoraphobia.
Each day, Mr. L went to work while Mrs. L remained in the bedroom. He did the grocery shopping; picked up dry cleaning; and attended to chores requiring any contact with people. The couple lived separate and apart from humanity.
Mr. L didn’t protest. In fact, he acknowledged the situation gave him ample time for his abiding passion: reading American history. Mr. L didn’t understand why his wife wanted to see a psychiatrist. I found this shocking, since the couple’s life appeared to be so compromised. He’d adapted to his wife’s condition, and was content with their lives. I wondered if he feared a changed Mrs. L would upend their relationship.