Bonnie, I have been a faithful partner to my spouse for over 55 years. For the last 5 years, she has had Alzheimer’s disease. I feel like I have lost my wife to the disease. Our relationship is gone. I’m just her caregiver. I have found a new woman who makes me feel alive and rejuvenated. I do know when I married my wife I took vows “for better or for worse” and “‘til death do us part”. On the other hand, I yearn for the relationship I’m now experiencing. I don’t like feeling guilty. On the other hand I don’t like the loneliness. What’s your advice?
This is a very sensitive question. It is not our intention to cast judgement or dispersion on anyone. Certainly, you are feeling lonely and isolated. Grief and vulnerability are natural in situations like yours. We appreciate your very difficult time. However, this answer may give food for thought on how to make deliberate decisions based on a well thought out plan.
Some questions you might ask yourself include the following: First, take inventory of what has made your relationship with your spouse special? These factors might consist of commitment, good communication, mature emotional connection, and tender sexual expression. They make marriage joyful and strong. Second, be clear, in your own mind, what it is you have lost. Is it all the components of a good marriage or only some components? No doubt you are experiencing real pain from those losses. Third, you are part of bigger picture that incudes your family and long-time close friends. They are still likely to see you as part of a deeply committed relationship—never as “just a caregiver”. They might surprise you with their understanding of your loneliness and feelings of loss. It is these people who might give you good advice on fulfilling your needs.
There is no doubt that your relationship changes when you mate has Alzheimer’s. Carefully evaluate any new relationship to be sure it promises the authenticity and depth you remember from the years when your spouse was herself. Discuss these memories with your new friend and establish boundaries you both feel are appropriate. Focus on group activities that offer diversion and fun without tempting you to casual intimacy you may regret.
Your yearning for intimacy and companionship is natural. Go slowly with old and especially new relationships and think of the outcomes you really want