Monday, June 21, 2010

Is She a "Horrible Person" for Wanting Sex?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

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.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

His Business is His Entire Life

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I've been married four years and don't have any kids, which is a good thing because my husband would probably never see them if we did. He's the owner of a convenience store that's open from 5:00AM to 11:00PM. Until the recession hit hard a couple of years ago, he'd open the store in the morning and work until about 5:00PM, at which point his assistant manager would take over for the rest of the day. The assistant manager would also be in charge on weekends, although my husband would usually go in for a few hours on Saturday. Now, with business slow, he's had to let the assistant manager go. His only help are a couple of part-time workers who work mainly in the afternoons, allowing my husband to come home for a quick nap before he goes back to the store. Because I work an 8 to 5 office job, I hardly ever see him. I've thought about quitting my job and going to work at the store, but I hate the thought of giving up a secure position, and I'm not sure what it would be like to go from never seeing him to being with him 24/7. I suppose I could work some nights at the store, but I'm tired when I get home. I really don't want a second job, I want a normal married life. Is there any hope? ("Karyn" in Minnesota)

DEAR KARYN: Being a small business owner has never been an easy life, either for the owner or his family, and things are even tougher now. From my observation, the most succesful small retail businesses are the ones in which the entire family---husband, wife, teenage kids, maybe a nephew or niece as well---pitches in, which tends to keep labor costs lower and reduces or eliminates the possibility of employee theft and other problems.

However, not every family, or every couple, is suited to working together. As you point out, there can definitely be such a thing as too much togetherness in a marriage. This is especially true when one spouse thinks of the business as his, and doesn't take well to constructive criticism or even well-meaning suggestions. My guess is that, after four years or more of running the place, your husband has his own ideas about what should or shouldn't be done.

Beyond that, if you were to give up a job with a steady paycheck you'd probably resent your husband and the business itself if you couldn't come close to matching your previous earnings.

It's not going to be easy, Karyn, but you've got to somehow find a time when the two of you can be together for a few hours and start talking about this. You need to stress to him that you appreciate all the hard work he's doing, but that your marriage---and possibly his health---will be jeopardized if this keeps up much longer.

You'll want to take the initiative in coming up with possible solutions, because your husband---like most small business owners---is doing things the only way he knows how. You might want to suggest that the store be open shorter hours; maybe the sales after 8:00PM or before 7:00AM don't justify keeping the place open, or maybe the store could be closed entirely on Sundays. You might also want to suggest that the part-time people work a few extra hours in the early evening, so the two of you could at least have dinner together most nights.

As I said, he may resist these and other suggestions you might make. But if he does, then press him to come up with better ones. The key is to let him know on no uncertain terms that the present arrangement just isn't working out, certainly not for you and for the marriage, and probably not for him, either (unless he's using the job as an excuse to avoid you, which is a whole other issue).

Good luck, Karyn, and please let me know what happens.