Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reader: "Replacement girlfriend? Since when are wives disposable?"

I am one of the sex educators who answers question sent to the Safer Sex for Seniors website. I just answered this one and wanted to share it with you, too. It's an issue that either has or will come up for us, unfortunately:

I'm 74 and my wife is 78. She is a resident of a care center while her hip heals from being broken and I'm still at home. She also has dementia! I'm being advised to put her into a senior home for the balance of her life and go find a replacement girlfriend.

My question is: Now that I'm at this age I've lost or forgotten how to find an acceptable date. My friends and family think it's outrageous for me to replace my wife. But our state case manager is strongly backing the suggestion for a new girl in my life. Since when are wives disposable -- except until death do us part? 

 Joan Price answers:

This is a sad and scary time for you, I understand. Your wife is badly injured and suffering from dementia, and others are advising you to let her stay in a residential facility where she can be taken care of – not temporarily, but for the rest of her life. I can understand how upset you must feel. This isn’t what you and your wife thought your golden years would be.

If you’re asking whether you should start dating, only you know whether that’s the right step for you. No one is suggesting that your wife is disposable, though they may sound that way to you in your grief.

I think those who are advising you to date are trying to let you know gently that your wife will not be returning to your home or to your relationship, and when it feels right to you to find companionship, it’s okay to do that. They’re not encouraging you to “dispose” of your wife or your vows. They’re trying to look out for your emotional well-being by letting you know that if you do want to explore finding a new relationship now or in the future, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I can see from the way you state your question, though, that it’s probably too soon to take that suggestion. Perhaps better right now would be a grief support group. Although your wife has not died, you have lost her companionship and even her presence in your life. A grief counselor or support group could be immensely valuable to you.

When you’re ready, you don’t need to feel guilty about your own need to be close to another person emotionally and sexually– that’s natural and a part of being human. You would not be trying to “replace” your wife in any way, just taking care of your own social and intimate needs. You may need to explain that to your family (or let them read this) if they still think it’s “outrageous” that you might look for a relationship.

I wish you the best. I know this is the hardest of times.

[Originally published at http://safersex4seniors.org/are-partners-with-dementia-disposable/.]

Readers: I invite your comments

5 comments:

  1. Another items on the list for aging couples to talk about, and perhaps write down. If I'm suffering from dementia and living separately from my hubby, I hope he DOES heal his grief with the companionship--and maybe sex--with another woman. But we gotta talk about all this BEFORE one of us can't.

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  2. Kat, that's such a good point, thank you. Yes, everybody, talk to your spouse about this NOW.

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  3. Have always wondered if sexually pleasureing the demented partner would be a good thing they'd enjoy or if it would terrify them. Don't see much about "therapeutic sexualiity" for dementia/alzheimers patients...course, may be too sad for the non-demented partner...

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  4. Ron, read the chapter about living with a spouse with Alzheimer's in Naked at Our Age. Several people tell their stories. The consensus is that (a) it's difficult, usually impossible, for a person who is now in a caregiving role to feel sexual towards the partner who is receiving care; (b) since the person with AD has unpredictable moods, it can be a disaster to try to be sexual. There may be situations unlike these, but that's what people have told me so far.

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  5. AnonymousJune 25, 2012

    Same thing happed to a top CBS talent and his wife. When I read their story here,

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/20/sunday/main6600364.shtml?tag=currentVideoInfo;videoMetaInfo

    I amended my Advance Directive For Health Care (Five Wishes) to say in writing that if this happens to me (dementia, sever disability) I want my wife to go out and get a new boyfriend, continue making wonderful love and to think of me sometimes...and pray for me often!
    I'm big on the ADHC, have seen such sadness when folks don't write down their wishes.
    Also note, Sandra Day O'Connor dealt with this matter, too:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21773097/ns/us_news-life/t/ex-justice-not-jealous-about-husbands-romance/#.T-hrvvVjaVo

    ...one of the reasons I reviewed Tristan Taormino's Opening Up on Amazon. Also, Pascale Ferran's 2006 award winning Lady Chatterly (stream it on Netflix) gave as a fine redition of this theme from the D.H. Lawrence work. One of my favorites. After viewing it, another reason I amended my ADHC.
    -Dan, 64

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