Sex & Relationships

Ask Joan: Distraught Widow

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A reader writes:

I have just become a widow after 52 years of a happy marriage. While my husband was in the hospital, sedated, I looked at his phone and discovered that he was registered on two dating sites. I was angry and uninstalled them. I hoped he would wake up so I could talk to him. He died without any discussion.

My husband suffered from ED. However, with supplements and ED meds, we had been having good sex before he got sick. The only thing was, he could not ejaculate. I would get tired and we would stop. I felt bad for him and did not know how to help him. I wish he had talked to me, told me how to help him. I thought I was helping when I told him that we didn’t have to have sex for me to love him. I now realize he did not want to hear that.

I want to feel he was on the dating sites as a confidence booster. But I cry every time I think about what he was doing there. I would love to be able to see exactly what he did on those sites good or bad so that I can put to rest if he cheated on me, however, I don’t have any of his passwords or user names. I could only see that a woman had chatted a question asking what he liked.  

I also found porn tapes he had hidden from me. I am sure he was just jerking off.  I feel like I could move on if I knew. Instead of just grieving his death. I am angry with him. He ruined all the wonderful years we had together. I loved my husband very much and I know he loved me.  How did this happen??

  • Distraught Widow

Joan replies:

I know you’re hurting, and I feel great compassion for you. There you were in the hospital with your husband dying, and you discovered he had secrets. I understand that this was an emotional blow on top of the pain of your husband’s death. But there’s no evidence that your husband was cheating on you with the dating apps. A woman tried to chat with him – that’s all you know about what went on.

We’ll never know his intention, but given his medical issues, I’m guessing that he probably just needed to flirt, feel better about himself, and affirm himself as a sexual being. Many people with no plans to cheat on their spouses indulge in this kind of online sexy flirtation. They see it as a harmless secret if they don’t act on it. 

Masturbating to porn is also extremely common and does not mean he was cheating or intending to cheat. “Many folks who watch lots of pornography are typically using it to cope with negative feelings and one main negative feeling: anxiety,” says sex therapist David J. Ley, Ph.D. “Sexual arousal is one of the ways we can turn off our anxiety and feel better. When we are turned on, we don’t worry.” Dr. Ley is the author of “Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure.” Although aimed at men, this book offers valuable insights to their partners, also.

You withdrew from sex with your husband because you thought that was easier for him. He didn’t know how to express his needs to you. That’s not your fault or his fault. We don’t learn how to communicate about our sexual needs to either our spouses or our doctors. The truth is that men with ED can experience sexual pleasure and orgasm without ejaculation. He might have discovered that through masturbation and not known how to communicate it to you. 

You likely didn’t know other ways to bring him to orgasm that wouldn’t fatigue you, such as letting a vibrator assist him. (See my blog reviews of sex toys for penises.) Without any knowledge to the contrary, or any communication from him, you did your best. Don’t blame yourself – it only hurts you more. 

Please don’t let these discoveries destroy your wonderful memories. You can’t bring your husband back, and you can’t un-see what you saw on his phone. You can, however, value the 52 years of happiness more than what was probably a harmless flirtation with women he would never meet. Don’t let this incident undermine the joy of your relationship and the intimacy you shared. You’ll only hurt yourself by not letting go of this. A grief counselor or therapist would be helpful to you now. 

My heart goes out to you in your grief.

Send Joan your questions by emailing All information is confidential. Joan can only answer questions that are chosen for publication from readers age 60+

Joan Price is the author of several self-help books about senior sex including her newest, “Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality after Losing Your Beloved,” and the award-winning “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex.” Visit Joan’s website and blog and her Facebook page. For senior sex news and tips, subscribe to Joan’s free newsletter.



7 responses to “Ask Joan: Distraught Widow

  1. This is an example of how we tend to make up stories, create entire “universes” built from our assumptions, speculations, beliefs, past conditioning, etc. – and then hold on to it mistakingly as “reality” – when in fact, much of it is fiction. However, we often insist, as strong emotions are seemingly proving for our fictitious world to be real, as we continue to “connect the dots” that ultimately flesh out the stories we spun and continue to spin.

    Meanwhile there is the here-and-now, the present moment, offering opportunity and possibility – if we are able to let go of the past and see life for what it is: An ongoing stream of experiences – offering us choices to engage or to remain in our cocoon of personal fantasy.

    This is not to say it is easy and happens with the snapping of one’s finger – even though theoretically that may be possible – it typically requires the willingness to delve deeper into the fabric we call our lives, and go down the rabbit hole of finding out what is real.

    1. Aloha Peter Reck. I was looking at this old article & comments. I realized that from your photograph that I think know you. I believe we met 20 years ago on Kaua’i island. . hope you are well and get the message . This is an old article. Aloha, Karen B.

  2. I daresay that all of us keep some secrets that we share with no one else, not even our spouses or intimate partners. So I think that it’s a stretch for the widow in this discussion to feel that her husband’s evidently harmless little secrets eroded or destroyed the love that they shared for 52 years. I applaud Joan Price’s advice for her to let go of fretting over this.

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