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Is it wrong to meet someone new when my husband doesn't know me anymore?

senior-woman-reading-300x199This week I received a letter from a reader, Jane, that touches on an important issue which affects the lives of a growing number of seniors.

Jane writes, "Dear Kathy, I am in a very difficult situation. My husband has had five strokes, beginning when he was 55 and we had only been married two years. I love my husband deeply and had intended to care for him at home until his passing."

"I have been his caregiver for seven years. Since his last stroke, just over a year ago, he has been in a Skilled Nursing Facility. Doctors have been after me for several years to give in and turn his care over to the professionals at a SNF and I have resisted. I have now come to the point where I just can't manage his care at home any longer."

"Due to vascular dementia our relationship has changed. He hasn't been able to carry on a conversation for several years. We haven't gone out as a couple with another couple for at least three years. It has been a lonely, lonely time for me."

"I never thought I would have any desire to have another relationship. To go through another heartache like this would be almost too much to bear, I fear. However, I don't care for this empty house and my dog isn't offering me any conversation either!"

"I have met a widower on-line and we talk every evening. He is a great guy. We know about each others backgrounds. I would like very much to meet him. I just don't know what to do. What do other women in my situation do? Would a friendship with this man be totally inappropriate? I know at one time it certainly would have. It is different when you are in the middle of a relationship that is no longer providing any emotional, intellectual, spiritual or sexual interaction – and this is not a new situation. It has been this way for at least four years."

First off, Jane, thank you for writing and sharing your story with me. It's important that you talk about it and get some help and encouragement from a neutral source, and I hope I can offer you a bit of that.

When I first started working in the senior care industry I encountered a very similar situation to yours but it was the wife who ended up in the facility while the husband tried to carry on with his life.   They were both in their early sixties, and like you and your husband, it just seemed way too premature and unfair. But my experience eventually showed me that these kinds of situations are not as uncommon as we would like to believe.

I am glad to hear that you have now turned your husband's care over to a Skilled Nursing Facility.   You were running serious risk of 'caregiver burnout' meaning that your health could actually be at risk by caring for your husband's significant needs at home for as long as you have. As difficult as this decision was, you did the right thing for both your sakes.

Dealing with physically disabled loved ones is extremely difficult and taxing — especially when it comes suddenly, but adding dementia to the mix is a whole other ball game. The emotional stress on loved ones is its own silent killer when the person you love no longer knows you and the relationship changes beyond everyone's control.

From what you have told me in your email, you married quite late, so assuming there are no children, moving ahead in your life will be much easier since children are usually resistant to their parents moving on. So while that makes this situation somewhat easier, there is still the issue of the guilt you are feeling by wanting to let go and live again.

Some people, because of religious or moral convictions, are adamant that marriage is until death, and they feel that even situations like yours would not be an exception to that. You may encounter people who unfairly thrust this view on you and make you feel like you have an obligation to live your life as a martyr and continue to feel alone and abandoned.

You have to remind yourself that even though your husband is still alive, your life together died a long time ago, and you still have needs that are important to you otherwise you wouldn't be looking for advice. You are still full of life and you are entitled to happiness — no matter what anyone says.

Take a good look back at the relationship you had with your husband before the strokes. Was your happiness as important to him as his happiness was to you?   Even if you never talked about what each of you would want if something happened to the other, taking a good look at the values you shared will help you to know what he would want for you right now if he was the man that he used to be.   I think this is where you may find the best answer to your dilemma.

Jane, you must be very emotionally raw and needy right now, given the circumstances of your life, so it is crucial that you take it slow with this man that you have been talking to online. You are worried about the heartbreak of history repeating itself and losing another partner to illness down the road, but in the short term you should be more worried about guarding your heart in its very vulnerable state.

Should you meet up?  Yes, as long as you follow my rules (outlined in the articles on the site such as How To Arrange Your First Real Meeting) and exercise good judgment.   When we go through very difficult emotional times of loss, it is easy to put a lot of trust and faith in people who are kind to us but chances are that your friend is legitimately a good guy.

My thanks again to Jane for sharing her story with us.

6 Responses to “Is it wrong to meet someone new when my husband doesn't know me anymore?”

  1.  blanton says:

    It is awesome to see this site is finally getting the attention that it deserves. Keep up the fantastic work.

    Posted on 16-Jun-13 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  2.  Fred W. says:

    Dear Kathy,
    I am 82 and in excellent health. My wife is 84 and in declining health. She has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's for about 7 or 8 years and has known that she probably had it before that. Her mother also had it, and we both cared for her for several years before she passed on. I have been the care giver for my wife until she entered a memory facility late last year. I still visit her every day and love her very much. She still remembers me, but her ability to express herself grows worse each day. I will continue to love her and do whatever I can to make her life as happy as possible, but I am also considering laying the groundwork for possible dating in the future. Does this seem too early, or should I wait until she is no longer alive? I hope this does not sound too heartless.

    Posted on 08-Mar-14 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  3.  Kathy Damer says:

    Hi Fred,

    With the staggering incidence of dementia your situation is sadly not uncommon nowadays, so I can imagine how heartbreaking this must be for you. The fact is that you have been a caring and attentive husband and have stuck with your wife through her tragic mental and physical decline. You love her very much and have demonstrated that by caring for her at home for many years before she entered a care facility. You visit her every day and try to provide the emotional support that she still needs from you – which is wonderful – but the problem is that you are not getting any emotional support back and it must be very difficult living in this state of limbo. So how can you cope with it all Fred? From what you've said in your email, my gut tells me that it's a bit premature for you to consider 'dating' as such. The reason I say this is that your wife still knows you, and although she is deteriorating, that is still an emotional connection that still very much bonds you together. Your commitment to your wife comes across very strong in your letter and I fear that you would end up feeling too guilty in the process of trying to connect with another woman while your wife is still lucid enough to know you. My advice would be for you to seek out support groups in your community so that you can meet other people who can relate to your tragedy. (Resources for this could be a senior's community centre, your local hospital's social work department, your church or perhaps even the administrative staff at the facility where your wife is.) I think that would be the best starting point for you because I believe that you will develop friendships with both women and men who who will help to fill your emotional void now and as your wife continues to deteriorate. And who knows what may come out of this down the road. I believe that meeting new people – especially those with common ground – will help you tremendously until you are finally ready for dating.

    Posted on 20-Mar-14 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  4.  Fred W. says:

    Dear Kathy,
    Thank you for your advice. I agree with your reasoning, and I plan to do as you suggest and wait for the inevitable to happen. We have been together for many years, and I really do have enough on my plate at this time. You are really performing a needed service by giving advice.

    Posted on 01-Apr-14 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  5.  Larry Gerstenhaber says:

    Thanks Kathy. Just discovered your site. I'm a psychologist doing work both in care facilities and an office where I see mainly older adults. I'm also kind of hooked up with a couple of ElderCare attorneys. I'm also 67 myself as well as in a long-term relationship with a nearly 20 year younger partner who is planning to join the peace corps in a year or two. Life is interesting.
    At any rate I found you because I've been doing some radio shows talking about these kinds of issues along with touch and sex in facities. Just doing research.
    Thanks for what you do. It's good stuff.

    Posted on 01-Sep-14 at 9:34 am | Permalink
  6.  Shirley says:

    I married a man after 14 yrs of being single. I had an inheritance. I was 54, he was 72. I became disabled with neuropathy after a serious illness. He became impotent from Prostate cancer. I was with him through cancer, so were my children, he had two heart surgeries I went through. His oncologist introduced him to a lady he knew in PA, and she was about to lose her husband. As soon as her husband died. The same date as his mother. My husband moved into the house he left her. Leaving me stuck with our condo. He said he was paying bills, when he infact didnt pay any. Left debt in my name. Took the car I bought. I allowed against my judgement to put it in his name. So when he left I had no car, no food, nothing. He put insurance policies in his daughters name. I insisted to stay married. He keeps me on health insurance. He doesn't have to pay for it. He pays my car ins. And my phone. Its now.We file joint tax returns, married. So he has been 41/2 years with her out of the ten
    Am I entitled to anything
    Is she entitled to anything.

    Posted on 05-May-15 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

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About This Site

Kathy Damer studied Sociology at University and has worked as a marketing executive in the Retirement and Senior care industries for many years. Kathy has a deep understanding of the issues unique to senior dating and relationships and has been featured on the radio.

Kathy founded senior-dating.org as a way to provide free advice and resources for anyone looking to enter the world of senior dating. Please feel free to send Kathy your questions, comments and suggestions for topics that you would like to see covered.

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