DEAR JIM: I'm 58 and my husband is 67. We retired to Florida two years ago, and we were barely settled in our new home when he had a massive stroke. He can't talk intelligibly, and probably never will. He also can't walk without assistance, or feed himself, or do much of anything on his own. Sex, obviously, is out of the question. I have an aide who comes in five days a week, but otherwise I'm pretty much a full-time caregiver. I feel terrible for saying this, but I can't accept the fact that my sex life is over. We used to have a good sex life, and it's a torture to have to be celibate, on top of all the other issues I have to deal with. I'm not going to abandon my husband no matter what, but all I can think about is finding someone I can be with once in a while and feel like a woman again. Am I a horrible person? Help! ("No Name" in Southwest Florida)
DEAR "NO NAME": No, you're not a horrible person. You're a conflicted person, an honest person, and---I would think---a normal person.
I'm not necessarily saying that you should go out and find someone for sex and comfort, but I am saying that your motivation is significantly different from the motivations that usually drive people to have extramarital sex. Most of the time, affairs are an escape from problems that could still be worked on and improved within a marriage. One of the many reasons I advise against affairs is that they usually solve none of those problems and, in fact, they create new problems within the marriage---especially if the affair is discovered.
In your case, though, the problems you're having are impossible to resolve merely by working on them. It's no one's fault, but the reality is that you and your husband are never going to be able to have the kind of life you used to have. There's no single right-or-wrong way to deal with your situation, but you might want to keep a few thoughts in mind:
- If you're a strongly religious person and/or have always believed in monogamy, you may never forgive yourself if you have sex with someone else.
- If you have sex with someone and it blossoms into a true relationship, you may become tortured with indecision. You may not be satisfied with just seeing him for a couple of hours every week or two. Could you handle those complications?
- On the other hand, if you don't have sex with someone else, are you likely to start resenting your husband? In fact, in your heart of hearts, are you resenting him already? (And if the answer is yes, don't beat yourself up over it; it's normal for caregivers to feel a degree of resentment, sometimes a big degree).
I think you might profit from seeing a counselor or therapist who has experience in dealing with caregiver issues (my guess is that it's a common situation in places like Florida). There may also be caregiver support groups in your area that would allow you to speak frankly to people who can personally relate to what you're going through. You'll be making a decision that you should not make lightly, so think hard about it before you place an ad on craigslist or start flirting with some guy in the supermarket.
Good luck, "No Name", and please let me know what happens.