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Shannon Bradley-Colleary

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When Your Spouse Asks You to Take a Lover

Posted: 08/01/2013 3:04 pm

Have you ever wondered what you would do if your spouse was disabled by an illness or injury and was no longer able to have sexual relations with you?

In my often-morbid musings (being of Irish descent I manage to look down the road to ill-fortune in intricate detail) what if Henry jumped off a waterfall on the Hana Coast in Maui (does this ring any bells sweetheart?) and plunged into a coral reef rendering him incapable of his husbandly duties?

Then, of course, there's the possibility he might contract polio (even if it doesn't exist in North America anymore) like Mark O'Brien in The Sessions after which we'd have to hire Helen Hunt to teach him how to make love again (no honey, it wasn't Salma Hayek in The Sessions).

I like to think if something happened I would waltz selflessly into celibacy and become the Fortress of Solitude (the one with Henry Cavill not Brandon Routh).

On other days I allow myself to contemplate hiring a handsome, young male escort, a professional who won't fall madly in love with me or, less likely, who I won't fall in love with.

But before I can really go down that road I already picture the various STDs I'll contract and how the male escort will have a drug problem and I'll be unwittingly trapped in the seedy underbelly of the criminal world, having to pay off said escort's drug-debts before thugs kneecap him.  And don't even get me started on his bi-polar PussyCat Doll girlfriend stalking me.

Then I worry that even thinking about Henry becoming somehow incapacitated will make it actually happen because that damned book The Secret (which blames cancer patients for getting cancer) that warns against sending out negative thoughts.

But enough about me.

Beatrice, the mother of a good friend of mine, lived through this scenario. Her husband of 35 years, Pete, was a heavy smoker in his youth and as the years progressed so too do his emphysema until he couldn't go anywhere without an oxygen tank, was too feeble to walk, and had to use a wheelchair.

Beatrice was an amazing caregiver throughout the 10 years that Pete's illness disabled him.  She was, in fact, so good at it that after Pete passed she became a caregiver to other elders in her community.

Prior to Pete's death, a few years into his ailment, he told Beatrice that he wouldn't be upset if she decided to take a lover since he could no longer make love to her.

Initially Beatrice was resistant and even hurt that her husband was willing to relinquish her to another man.  She told Pete she didn't want a lover, she assured him that part of her life wasn't important anymore, despite the fact that she was a vibrant, attractive woman in her late 50s.

Then time went by.  A few years later Beatrice had a change of heart.  She began to miss the part of herself that was still sexually vital.  Eventually she met another man in her condo complex and began an affair.  Despite Pete's assurances years earlier that he wouldn't be upset if she took a lover Beatrice kept the affair secret for some time, but eventually she felt guilty by omission and confessed to Pete she was having a sexual relationship with another man.

Pete tried to put a brave face on it, but quickly realized that the idea of his wife with another man was quite different than the reality.  Their relationship became freighted and Beatrice's lover began to have needs.  He wasn't an idea, he was a person of flesh and blood and people don't fit in neat little boxes with labels on them.  People are messy.  As the affair continued Beatrice's lover wanted a real, committed relationship with her, not just a sexual one.

As so often happens, what looked good on paper was a disaster in real life.  Beatrice spent the last couple of years of Pete's life torn between these two men.  Pete was no longer her husband, but her patient and her family.  Her lover was dissatisfied being relegated to a small corner of her world.

After Pete passed Beatrice and her lover attempted a more traditional relationship, but because of the way things began and how it affected Pete, the relationship was doomed.

What's the takeaway here?  Objectively I can certainly understand Beatrice's need to still be sexually vital.  I think everyone did the best they could given the circumstances.  But, I'd love to hear from those of you who've found yourselves in similar circumstances and how you've managed?

And universe, I need Henry ready for action right up to the time we're in our early hundreds and sex threatens to break both of our hips.  Just in case The Secret isn't a bunch of hooey.

Michael Adoring Lookpic
This is a photo from my 2001 wedding. Henry claimed me as his on that day. And everything good in my life today started with that look on his face.
 

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