Ask Joan: Wife has Dementia

Every month in Sex at Our Age, award-winning senior sexpert Joan Price answers your questions about everything from loss of desire to solo sex and partner issues. Nothing is out of bounds! If you’re over 60, submit your questions to this column by emailing Joan directly at sexpert@seniorplanet.org.

A reader asks:

I have been caring for my spouse for 10 years since her dementia diagnosis. We are in our 70s. She has been in a memory care facility for four years, and I spend time with her several times a week. She knows me a little but remembers nothing of our life together. She was a bright, successful woman, but now she barely communicates. At the rate she’s declining, I doubt she will recognize me soon.

She’s in good physical health and could live another decade. I know I’m taking care of her needs, but I’d like to figure out how to take care of myself, too. I’m considering returning to the dating scene, with friendship first and maybe romance down the road if it happens.  

Some dating sites do not accept you if you are married (unless you lie), even though we have been separated for four years and have not been intimate all that time. About half the sites seem okay with “Separated.” How much of the truth do I tell? Women don’t want to date someone in my situation. 

This seems to be an area the internet dating scene has ignored and society as well.  I have not been with anyone but my wife for more than 50 years. I have never been intimate with another woman. Do you have any advice for me?

I sometimes wonder what my wife and I would have said to each other if we knew this terrible illness was going to happen to her — and therefore to both of us. I hope my wife would have said this:

 “Please take care of me until I pass naturally. I do not have good quality of life, so let me pass with no extraordinary measures. Please build for yourself a life with a new partner. For better or worse you will never forget me, or our life together, although I have. Thank you for our life together and I am sorry this happened to us. Hopefully someday there will be a cure.”

  • Lonely Husband

Joan replies:

Your story touches my heart, especially the message you wish your wife had said. I encourage you to go forward as if she told you this. I’m sure she only wanted the best for you, including finding solace and joy with someone capable of giving you what she cannot.

“Friendship first and maybe romance down the road” is an excellent way to proceed. You’re emotionally vulnerable, and it’s important to invite into your life and heart only someone who understands, accepts you and your situation, builds trust with you slowly, and offers affection and compassion. 

In my opinion, there’s nothing unethical or disloyal about dating and nurturing an intimate relationship outside your marriage, given your circumstances. Support groups for caregiving spouses might be one way to meet others like you. You’re right that online dating opens the most opportunities, because that’s where the people are who are seeking relationships. 

You’re concerned that most women on dating sites will not want to date you if they know you’re married. I advise you to describe your circumstances honestly in your profile. Women seeking husbands or live-in lovers will skip right by you, but so what? Those aren’t the women you want to date anyway. Potential dates who will read your profile carefully and reach out to you will be these:

  • Women in the same situation as you, with partners who are no longer capable of companionship and intimacy;
  • Women who lost their partners due to a breakup or death, who want the same things you do, without a committed relationship;
  • Women who would like a mutually beneficial “friend with benefits.” 

My new book, Sex after Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality After Losing Your Beloved, would be an excellent resource for you. Although this book is primarily for people whose partners have died, almost all of it will be helpful for you. There are sections for people who are or were spousal caregivers, how to date again, and how to get sexual with a new person.

Those of you who are fortunate enough to have loving partners now: show them Lonely Husband’s story, especially his ending paragraph, and discuss it. Give your partner the gift of knowing that you want them to seek closeness, intimacy, and joy with others if you can no longer provide these. Difficult as it is, have this conversation now. Put it in writing. 

Readers: Please share your thoughts about any of these questions by posting a comment: 

  1. If you’re in Lonely Husband’s situation, what have you tried to find friendship and intimate relationships? What worked and what didn’t?
  2. If you’re single and on a dating site, would you be open to someone like Lonely Husband? What would be important to read in his profile to make you want to take a chance and contact him?  
  3. If you’re partnered now, what have you discussed with your loved one about what should happen when one of you is no longer able to have a full relationship? 
  4. Your advice to Lonely Husband?

Send Joan your questions by emailing sexpert@seniorplanet.org. 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.

 

 

 

3 comments
  • Jeanette Lamb
    REPLY

    I absolutely agree that he should be able to find intimacy and companionship, he’s being a good husband. We all have needs and as long as everything is above board it’s a win win as far as I’m concerned.

  • Shamus MacDuff
    REPLY

    This man’s dilemma struck close to home for me in two ways. The first concerned my parents. My father developed Alzheimer’s and no longer recognized his family members. My devoted mother cared for him until he entered a special Alzheimer’s unit established at their retirement facility, and she continued to visit him daily until his death. During this process she attended a caregiver support group and met a man who had lost his wife to Alzheimer’s. They found much in common, became lovers, eventually married, and had several happy years together before they died.The second way that Lonely Husband’s predicament struck home for me was my own situation. My wife had COPD, macular degeneration, and a heart condition, the combination of which left her increasingly debilitated during the final 3 years of her life. I became first a part-time and then a full-time caregiver as our once robust sex life declined and then disappeared altogether. In her final months, as we talked about her demise, she blessed me with a statement quite similar to Lonely Husband’s heartfelt “I wish” list. Consequently, although I continue to miss her every day I felt supported in my efforts to date and resume partnered sex following her death. I have been fortunate, as I hope Lonely Husband will be, too, to meet a wonderful new person via an on-line dating site, and she and I are in a delightful, committed consensual non-monogamous relationship that brings me joy and makes me feel alive once again.

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