Content note: This post contains critical plot elements from ‘Massage Therapy,’ the fourth episode of season seven of House.
Watching the House episode ‘Massage Therapy’ and approaching the grand denouement, I got ready to be infuriated. The storyline involves a character, Margaret, with schizophrenia. She conceals it from her husband and when she gets sick, the medical team spends an extended period of time puzzling over what’s going on until they finally figure it out. What I expected from this episode was much brouhaha, followed with a brisk round of ‘you can totally leave your partner for being disabled!’ What happened surprised me.
Now, I am not a fan of keeping secrets. I am, in fact, fairly strongly anti-secret. And I do not think that concealing very significant information from your spouse is an ok thing to do, even if I understood exactly why she did it, fearing the stigma associated with schizophrenia. It wasn’t really explored deeply in the episode, but it seems possible that they started dating and she never brought it up, and it got to a point where she couldn’t figure out how to say anything. So, I sympathise with what the character did, even if I don’t agree with it.
I expected House, who is kind of known for being a jerk, to support the husband in wanting to leave his wife because of her mental illness. But that’s not actually what occurred. Instead, when the husband follows House out of the room, looking for justification and vindication, House basically gave him a stern talking to. He pointed out that, yes, marriage and love and relationships are hard, and that, no, it’s actually not ok to decide to leave your partner because you just found out she has a mental illness.
‘This is not who I married,’ the husband says. House points out that this is wrong; Billy, the husband, married a woman he loved very much and shared a lot in common with. That hasn’t changed. She’s not a different person now that he knows about her mental illness. She’s the same person, and she’s someone who could probably really benefit from the love and support of her husband right now, while she works on finding a treatment method that works for her.
‘It’s too hard,’ Billy says. Well, I’m with House on this one. Life and relationships are hard. Concealing information is definitely a problem, but it’s worth exploring why she felt the need to conceal that information for so long, why she tried so determinedly to hide from her husband. Given his reaction, of wanting to leave her because of her mental illness, I think it could be argued that she had pretty sound reasons for her decision; this is something I have encountered myself, and that some of our readers probably have too, that once you disclose a mental illness, suddenly you’re not as desirable. You’re ‘too much work.’ And the person who was happily dating you, who had a lot in common with you, who was really excited about being with you, stops calling.
I’m not saying here that people should be forced to stay in relationships they don’t want to be in. What I am saying is that wanting to leave your partner because you just found out about a disability is a shitty thing to do. Wanting to leave your partner for keeping a significant secret, being concerned about the lack of trust there, is valid, but deciding you want to leave not because of the secretkeeping, but because the secret was a disability? Not so much.
Disability complicates relationships, for all parties. Recognising when a relationship is not working and being honest about the role disability plays in that does not make people bad people. In this case, though, the husband just decided that the relationship wouldn’t work on the basis of his wife’s schizophrenia, and wasn’t even willing to try and put in the work; despite the fact that their relationship had been working well before, he suddenly determined it wouldn’t any more.
Granted, I disclose before I’ve been married to someone for several years, because my mental illnesses are an important part of who I am and I want people to know about them. But I can certainly understand why some people choose not to disclose. What surprised me in this case was an incidence of pop culture showing a nondisclosure in a sympathetic light, and reinforcing it with House’s speech. Usually, episodes like this end with the husband marching off into the sunset, Deeply Wounded, and everyone castigating the evil secretkeeping wife and talking about how she deserves it.