Ask Sahaj: We both have spouses with Alzheimer’s. Is it too early to date?


Q: My wife has Alzheimer’s. Last year I had to place her in an assisted-living facility. I visit her five to six days per week for about two to three hours each time. I recently started dating a woman in my Alzheimer’s support group. Her husband also has Alzheimer’s and is in an assisted-living facility (a different one than my wife); she visits her husband about three to four times per week. Our spouses are both physically fairly healthy, and we’ve both been their sole caregivers since around 2014.

We are both in our 70s, financially secure and our children are aware and very supportive of us seeing each other. However, no one else is aware of our dating. Is it too early for us to date? – Anonymous

A: I’m sorry to hear about your wife. It doesn’t matter how much time goes by, loving and caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s can be incredibly difficult and painful. Your wife is physically present, but she may not be psychologically or emotionally present. This can cause what is known as ambiguous loss, which can include a constant re-grieving since the loss doesn’t have a sense of closure.

Your girlfriend’s companionship is helping you move through the grief and journey of loving your wife. Your relationship with your girlfriend is not meant to replace your relationship with your wife, and if this meaningful relationship allows you to better take care of you while you take care of your wife, then that seems like a positive thing. While not everyone may understand, what’s important is that you are okay with it, and that you and your girlfriend continue to be on the same page about your expectations of your relationship – and its potential impact on your spouses and your families.

Under these particularly unique circumstances, starting to date, and being in a relationship, is a very personal decision. You and your girlfriend met at a support group, and you feel a kinship over your shared – albeit devastating – experience. It doesn’t sound like you’ve simply dumped your wife for being ill, but rather that you’re learning to live your life while also being a loving spouse.

When you ask if it’s “too early,” I hear a fear of judgment. You are seeking permission, but from who? Me, a stranger? Your wife, who may not understand or be able to consent? Or yourself because you feel guilty? Remember that guilt is an indication that you are acting against your moral values. In a situation like this – which may not be black and white – take the time to evaluate and reevaluate what guilt is telling you. Is it telling you that you are doing something wrong? Or is it telling you that this feels wrong because you are finding moments of joy while your wife is ill? One requires your self-examination of your evolving role and responsibility as a spouse, and one requires your ability to have self-compassion as you navigate this tricky situation.

Keep in mind that not everyone’s opinions matter. Whether or not you choose to be more public about your girlfriend, staying honest and true to the relationships that matter to you is most important. Since you have your children’s support, it sounds like you are not causing harm to your relatives or family relationships. Having companionship can give you hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. You can’t fault yourself for finding connection with someone, especially during a hardship like this.

As the relationship develops, continue to check in with yourself on if it still feels right. Having group support is a valuable tool, but so is having your own individual, professional support to navigate all of your feelings – in their totality. Try to remind yourself that you can feel grief and hope at the same time. Finding joy again does not diminish your love for your wife.

Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli


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