Dear Margo: When An Affair Can Be Ethical

I’ve fallen in love with a man whose wife has been in a nursing home for seven years. Is it wrong for us to act on our feelings? Margo Howard’s advice

When an Affair Can Be Ethical

Dear Margo: Is an affair always wrong? I am close to a man whose wife has been in a nursing home for seven years. She has had MS for 30 years (diagnosed at 25 years old) and is physically dependent for everything. Mentally, she can carry on a conversation but is very forgetful. I was her nurse for five years, but I have not taken care of her for the past two.

In those two years, I have become close with her husband. Recently, he told me he loves me, and I feel the same — for the first time in my life. I am single, and we are middle-aged people who have both been alone for many years. I don’t think he would ever divorce her, and I don’t want him to. Neither of us wants to hurt her. Are we wrong to have these feelings and to act on them, especially since I was his wife’s nurse? –RN in Love

Dear R: I do not think the way you met your love colors the situation … and, in fact, the way you met is not all that uncommon. I do not regard your relationship as an affair, in the accepted sense, but rather, a love affair. This man’s wife is sick enough to require institutional care and can in no way be a wife. There are some spouses, granted, who could not entertain the idea of a romance while a legal spouse was still alive, but I know of many more people who have done it your way. And I see nothing wrong with it. Happiness is hard enough to find. I suggest you accept yours with an open heart. –Margo, guiltlessly

Collateral Damage

Dear Margo: I moved from my parents’ house to my grandma’s due to my parents going through foreclosure. Before I moved, I entered into a verbal agreement regarding the majority of my stuff (bedroom furniture, papers, jewelry, etc.), in which I’d pay a set amount of money to help cover the storage fees and the care of my cat until I could bring my cat and my things to my grandma’s place.

Everything seemed fine until my parents separated and began divorce proceedings less than a week after I moved out. Things got hostile between the two, and in one of their battles, my mother ordered my father to move his stuff into storage. Then I received a panicky e-mail from my father letting me know that my stuff had vanished from the storage unit. I naturally jumped to the conclusion that my things were stolen.

After sending terrified texts to my mother asking where my things were, I finally got a reply from Mom stating only, “It’s safe.” She refused to elaborate. I went ballistic. I called her and demanded to know where my things were, only to have her tell me, “I can’t trust you. You’ll blab the location to your father, and I don’t trust him.” I told her I wanted an apology; she refused. We hung up, and I cried for hours, something completely out of character for me. I have not spoken to her since. Am I right for cutting off contact with her? –Yearning for Contact

Dear Yearn: Get back in touch. You clearly felt both loss and exclusion. I would try to convince her that she can, indeed, trust you — and also, you will need access to your things. Treat this episode as a blip on the radar, and re-establish the former connection with your mother. Chalk it up to the stress of her divorce. She is most likely calmer now. –Margo, restoratively

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to dearmargo@creators.com. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.

COPYRIGHT 2011 MARGO HOWARD
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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92 comments so far.

  1. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    On Letter 1 – This letter strikes a nerve with me because I am married to a man with a neuromuscular disease. There are many things he can’t do but I’d never have an affair because I feel that it would betray and harm him mentally and emotionally. I can understand why the husband might have become close to the nurse as she cared for his wife. People sometimes transfer unfulfilled desires to a caring person close at hand. This man is still married and by her own admission not about to divorce his wife.

    A woman with MS is not a vegetable she is a woman with hopes dreams and aspirations of her own that will never be fulfilled because of her disease. The fact that she is forgetful in conversation could be because she is stuck in the nursing home with a decided lack of outside stimulation. It is no reason to justify an affair. She will sense the changes in her husband and feel worse because she isn’t the one to be able to fulfill his needs. It could destroy her will to live.

    It is obvious the wife is short term. Allow this couple their last time together before inserting yourself into their lives. If this man does love you and he probably is lonely he will turn to you when things have settled down.

    • avatar myopinion says:

      Very well said Chris.  My thoughts were that the wife has no control over her symptoms and lives each day wishing she were well enough to be a wife in every way.  When we marry we make vows to each other – whether the words “in sickness and in health until death do us part” are said or not, the intention of marriage is to fulfill that.  Perhaps a person has to themselves have an illness that prevents them from doing everything they want to, or like yourself have someone they care deeply about be afflicted this way to fully understand why we think an affair is harmful and wrong.  The emotional betrayal is bigger/stronger because of the illness – and the nurse knows this.  If she thought it was ok she wouldn’t need someone else to give her permission.

      • avatar Kriss says:

        Actually, there is no guarantee that the wife is short term.  MS is kind of quirky that way.

        My grandmother’s sister was diagnosed w/ MS when she was 42.  She lived with it for 45 years, the last 25 she was completely bedridden.  Her husband died the year before she did.

      • avatar olivepoetry says:

        A friend’s mother recently died from MS. She had a fairly rare type of MS that was rapid onset (she was completely bedridden within 6 months) and left her in a nursing home for 30 years before she died of pneumonia. So, we can’t know this disease will porogress quickly, especially if she has been ill for so long already. There is no reason at all that the letter writer and the ill woman’s husband should enjoy each others company, especially since it appears the letter writer has a compassionate attitude about the whole situation.

    • avatar butterfly55 says:

      Obviously she is not “short term”, she has had it for 30 years!  And she has been in a nursing home for 7 years.  She could be around for another 20.  This is not a situation of sit and wait, he has been doing that for a long time.  He needs some companionship and deserves it.  Read the entire letter before making their love and yours be the same.

      • avatar Lucy Baty says:

        if a woman was in the man’s place and her husband was in a nursing home, Margo, would you still answer the same? It seems to me the women are frowned on, if the reverse it true as not sticking to the marriage vows.. Usually the man misses sex and being taken care of.. just playing devil’s advocate here..

      • avatar Jane Jordan says:

        It’s the truth, Lucy. Women would not be supported in this, because they are told they do not deserve sex. They are considered selfish whores if they want to be with someone else, but a man can dump his wife as soon as she gets sick & many people agree, because they just see women as sex toys.

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      Or maybe the wife will feel unburdened by guilt that what she cannot provide for her husband is being provided for him.  Sure, your scenario of the wife’s feelings are plausible, but I would suggest that many spouses who suffer long-term debilitating illnesses also feel extremely guilty for the burden that they place upon their spouses.  Their mental health is often affected negatively by this extra guilt that they carry. 

      Husband is in the best position to gauge his wife’s reaction to this. 

  2. avatar Jim Martin says:

    I agree with Margo. I was going to elaborate, but there really is no need to. She gave the right advice. It may not sit well with those who have very strict attitudes toward marriage, but if the writer or the man she loves had been of that sort she would not have written either. For these three people, under these circumstances, what Margo advised is the best solution.

    • avatar Nancy Pea says:

      dear jim, if LW#1 is so forth right about it, then she and the husband should ask permission of the wife before they proceed. don’t say that she is to forgetful to understand it. i’m just surprised she is in the home. most ppl who love each other would have nurses at home, so she could still be in her own place and be happy. the biggest question here is would the wife want that for her husband. when i was a young girl i remember going with my mother over to ppl’s houses to do bible study. at this one couples house my step mother would talk to this husband and wife. the wife was paralyzed from i think the chest or waste down. they were both older. but you could see the love they still had. i remembered he did everything for her (i think they were retired). they had separate bedrooms (she had a special hospital bed) but they loved each other so much that it didn’t matter what could and could not be done between them (i remember listening to my step mother and grammy talk about it thinking i wasn’t paying attention.
      maybe he was having affairs to keep himself healthy and happy. but i don’t really think so. being truly in love means it doesn’t matter what happens to the other person in the relationship (unless they are in a coma and it’s irreversible then it’s pull the plug and go marry somebody else) you still love them and made a commitment to them. look at christopher reeves and his wife. he probably wanted her to leave and i’m sure he wanted to die just having to live that way. but she stuck it out to the end. you didn’t hear of her running out and having an affair.
      if LW#1′s wife found out about the affair i’m sure she would be heart broken and unhappy. especially it coming from someone so close to her. i’m living with an autoimmune disease myself and there were times when i couldn’t do anything because of the pain the illness brought on. but my husband (at the time i was diagnosed. we have since broke up for OTHER reasons that had nothing to do with my illness) NEVER stopped touching me, holding me and spending time with me. we discussed what might happen and even though i offered consent of an affair to see what he would say, he turned it down flat. he married me and that was that. i would feel the same. hell, buy a blow up woman or some sex toy. but don’t run off and have an affair. some ppl just don’t realize (and in my youth i was one of them) but sex isn’t everything and the act isn’t love. if you truly love the one you are with you cannot look at another, especially if they are sick. so i have to disagree with both you and margo.

      • avatar january 28711 says:

        Please don’t make judgements about why this woman is in a nursing home.  You have no idea what their circumstances are, or whether, in fact she would be happier at home.  The fact is, she IS in a nursing home, and her husband IS alone.  And, despite what another commenter has said, LW1 is already in their lives, and has been, in one capacity or another, for some time.  Nobody here sounds callous or uncaring.  I don’t know what I would do in their situation, but I can’t help feeling that the husband may well need some joy in his life.

      • avatar Pdr de says:

        Thank you – you took the words out of my mouth! I assume the husband is working very hard to keep her in a nursing home because he can’t take care of all her needs at home and keep a roof over both their heads. It’s easy to sit in judgment.

        My husband was disabled with congestive heart disease and kidney disease for over a decade. He dialyzed at home four times a day and was weak and unable to help me in any way at home. Even if I’d wanted it, I couldn’t have had an affair – I was a zombie from sheer exhaustion. Nursing him, rushing him to the hospital for emergencies (took up every vacation day for those 11 years), doing everything alone so my young daughter (who was 12 when he became ill) could live as “normal” a life as possible (she couldn’t even have friends over and I was so busy wearing far too many hats so that she didn’t get her fair share of my attention). Doing all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and errands and all the yard work (we had an acre of land). My daughter had severe allergies to dust and pollen; she couldn’t help me and I didn’t want her to. She was a straight A student but as we lived in the country, she had to be driven to the homes of friends in order to have a social life. Of course I willingly did that but it made her feel isolated – having the phone in her room (this was before cell phones, texting and computers) helped her connect with her friends. As soon as she was old enough, she had the use of our second car.

        I had a secretarial service at home and later when my husband was able to manage being alone for 8 hours, worked at part-time jobs and then a full-time as an administrative secretary for 33 professionals at a job close to our home. The list of responsibilities goes on in on. Oh yes, there is the fact we lost $45,000 in income when he got sick and our share of the medical bills was huge in spite of my insurance. Then there was the fact we were paying for our daughter’s tuition and room and board at college. Fun? What’s that? Drudgery and exhaustion were much more familiar.

        People are extremely judgmental and in many cases, empathy seems to have flown out the window. Every situation is different but I can tell you from experience that being a caregiver, whether the partner is home like my husband was or having a loved one in a nursing home, is extremely demanding, exhausting and challenging. The biggest problem I had was the aching loneliness. He’s been gone 19 years and 3 days and I’ve lived alone since he died. I have not been nearly as lonely in all these years as I was when he was alive. No one called, no one came over to visit or to see if they could help, no one asked how we were doing. I had a breakdown several months before he died and couldn’t go to the hospital as the doctors wanted because I had to take care of him; by then I’d taken a medical leave of absence from my job with no pay, of course. Antidepressants and twice weekly sessions with a psychologist got me through it but I was hanging on by my fingernails. All I can say is don’t pass judgment! Not everyone has the same strengths or coping skills.

        Margo’s compassionate response is right on! It’s a tragic situation all around but some warmth and happiness can and has been found. They are both very mindful and caring about his wife’s situation and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be so.

      • avatar Carrie A says:

        That’s incredibly rude to make judgements about the man because his wife is in a nursing home. Do you have any idea how much more it costs for home care? When my grandmother could no longer care for herself at the age of 93 my mom looked into many options. Of course my grandmother would have preferred to stay in her home but it was just not feasible when we looked at the costs. Does that mean we loved her any less? Absolutely not. Either my mom or I were there to see her every day after work and on weekends. It was the best we could do and to imply that meant we didn’t love her enough is extremely ignorant.

      • avatar Jean B says:

        Home nursing is very expensive and probably is outside his means. Hospice is free but unless her doctor says she has less than 6 months to live, she doesn’t qualify. His insurance probably pays for most or all of the nursing home since she does require full time care. It is not fair but that’s how it works.

        I’m perfectly healthy and know what it is to be cheated on. It actually hurt me worse than losing my father, who I was very close to, but he was sick a long time and it was a relief that he was no longer in pain. I fully understand the feelings of those who say “he is married, leave him alone” and such. But you also have to look at the circumstances. Would you want your loved one to suffer along with you? I don’t. I have it in writing, if I need machines to live they had better pull the plug. I don’t want them going through that, and I don’t want to lie there lingering. I don’t know what I would do if I had MS or anything like it.

        Assisted suicide should be legal at the federal level. We show more compassion for our animals who are suffering than we do humans. When my cat had an in-operable brain tumor, was blacking out all the time, and obviously in pain I had her put to sleep. There was nothing that could be done to save her and there was no need for her to suffer so horribly. That was over 23 years ago and I still miss her, but I couldn’t let her suffer at the expense of my selfishness.

        Frankly, I’m surprised the wife didn’t suggest he find a companion. I don’t know for sure if I could do that, but I like to think that I wouldn’t be that selfish and would suggest it.

    • avatar Chris Glass` says:

      If this patient had been male and attended by a male nurse more people would have thought it a breach of ethics for him to solicit the wife. This is no different because the nurse and wife are female. Obviously she still works in the nursing home to see the husband and be able to comfort him. If the wife was in a coma or had been non-responsive for years this would be a different situation.

      Nursing homes can be hot beds of gossip. When I visit my father-in-law who is in a Veteran’s home I hear things that are not my business. My father-in-law tells the other residents where we go out to eat, what we ordered and any family news he thinks might spark their interest. When I say that word of this of this affair will reach the wife I know what I’m talking about. Chances are she’s already heard of the friendship.

    • avatar Jane Jordan says:

      How typical that a man agrees with the affair. Women are just cum buckets to you, right?

  3. avatar elaine s says:

    Regarding LW#2, what about the cat?  That is the most important part of the post.  Margo, you missed this.

  4. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Margo an affair is an affair. And affairs are “hormonal” otherwise, well, why not just be friends? 
    And the backstreet is the backstreet.  I’ve been on the backstreet.  Never works in the end. I suppose they could just “carry on” openly but then that’s usually also a disaster in the end.

    I have no regrets in my life. However, if I had to do it  over again, I would have “declined” four times. Wasn’t fair to me. Wasn’t fair to anyone.  It never is.  Painful for all eventually. And pain is not happiness.  This nurse needs to give herself a shot of reality. Before it’s too late.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      One night the phone rang. The wife. An emergency. I didn’t know she knew. But she did. The problem was he wasn’t with me. She and I both had the light bulb go off at the same time. “If he’s not with me and he’s not with you, who’s he with?”  We both dumped him.

      If he will cheat on her, he will cheat on you.  Plain old common sense.  =

      • avatar Jane Jordan says:

        Why do women like you spread your legs for married men? Is it an ego thing?

    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      I’ve been on the backstreet too. You are right. It never ends well. And when it ends, no amount of showering makes you feel clean again.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        I never had any illusions which is why I never had any regrets but I also ended the relationships before the resentments reared their ugly little heads. Which they always do.
        Still there were the wonderful weekends. But they are not for everyone. I knew that is all they were. Most do not. And fall into the trap of believing the other person will leave their husband/wife and they will live happily ever after.
        The fifth time I said no before it began.  I had illusions. But then he wasn’t married. Then decided to get married. For money. I ended up going back to someone else I had kept the door open with. The door to the alley I suppose. Who was married. But then, well, as you put it I felt in need of a shower. So I ended it. Before either of us actually needed one.

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        I was young and stupid with my trip in the alley. Naive may be a better word. I thought he was divorced. He told me so. One day the very much married wife found out (do not ask me how) and called me. She wasn’t mad. She wasn’t mean. She was CRUSHED. She wanted to know what I had that she didn’t. I resisted the urge to say “a penis”. Thank God for grace under fire. It was just horrible. She had to turn to me to find out why her marriage wasn’t good. She was…nice. I carried around the guilt of that for years until I grew wiser and realized it was pointless.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Guilt is for the guilty.  He lied to you, to himself, and to her. And yet I doubt he felt guilty about it it all. So why would you? You didn’t lie to anyone.

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        Sweet, Wonderful, Wise Baby Snooks:

        I was in my late 20s and he was the first man I considered that I might be able to have a relationship with. You are right, I lied to nobody, But coming from where I was at the time I felt horrible sympathy for the wife. When I finally realized what I am, I was told by many long time “friends” that I would never experience the relationship I wanted as a gay man. Monogamy back in that day was thought not to exist in the gay male community. And that just sort of proved their point. Also, my conversation with the wife was so heartbreaking. Yes, I am the Count of Snark, but really, she touched my heart and I wished with all of my heart that I had not done what I did with her husband. At least I could reassure her that with me at least, she had no fears of an STD or HIV. But, that was a long time ago, The Count will be turning “Frankly Forty” this year, when he will, in actuality be factually fifty. We learn, I hope, as we age. XOXO

      • avatar Jane Jordan says:

        Oh, so because you f-cked another woman’s husband, invalidating her relationship behind her back, that’ sjust fine? Because you didn’t lie? You’re a pathetic whore.

  5. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Can the letter writer look her patient in the eye after she’s “consumated” the love affair? Maybe she can. Frankly this man vowed “until DEATH us do part.” This nurse should put herself in her patient’s shoes: If she were in that awful situation (which the patient definitely doesn’t want to be), would she want her husband to remain faithful to her regardless…or would she “understand” and be okay with her nurse having an affair with her husband? Ask yourself lady — rationally. Don’t justify. Simply ask yourself.

    L #2: Yikes. I hope all is calmer now. I think Margo’s completely right on this one.

    • avatar Gerri Lynn says:

      The nurse in question has not been the wife’s nurse for over two years.

      The other thing is to not assume that the vows included until death do us part. When my husband and I got married, we didn’t include that as a part of our vows. (Neither was monogamy, but that’s a different issue.)

  6. avatar Lila says:

    The nurse also needs to remember that an affair will impact more than the three in the triangle. The letter does not say if there are any adult children, but if so, they will have feelings on the matter as well. It’s one thing to move on after a spouse passes, but another to carry on an affair while the spouse is alive, and justify it by the fact that (s)he is sick.

    • avatar A R says:

      I agree with Lila, and those grown kids could easily find out about this while mom is still alive. Imagine their potential anger at their dad and the LW.

      Too, if this LW is still working at that nursing home, she could potentially lose her job over something like that if it came to light. Many companies have a policy of not dating clients or of other conflict of interest type of behaviors. The husband is still a client of the place, even if his wife is the one receiving services.

      I vote that they keep the relationship platonic until they are both single.

  7. avatar Lym BO says:

    As a medical professional, I have the chime in on LW1. Yes, it is wrong. Yes, it is morally & professionally unacceptable. Yes, it is an affair and no, you are not exonerated because she is ill. IF the wife has the capacity to be hurt by the relationship and hasn’t encouraged him to seek friendship, love &/or sex from someone else then it is an affair.
    AS many others said, marriage is until death do us part. It’s fine to be friends if wife is good with that. Imagine yourself in her shoes. For me, I’m not sure I would care if my husband had sex with some random tramp, but if he had any kind of emotional tie that would devastate me.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      I agree on all counts—I think I would understand more that he required a physical need fulfilled, but the idea that he’s in love with someone else is so… hurtful.

      • avatar Jane Jordan says:

        He could be celibate if he wanted to respect his wife, but his physical needs are more important.

  8. avatar Brooke Schubert says:

    I have to disagree with Margo’s advice on LW#1.  This man’s wife is still a thinking, rational being and MS sufferers usually maintain many, most, or even all of their mental faculties.  It’s much different than if the wife were in a coma, had late stage dementia, or was otherwise incapacitated.  She’s still a intelligent human being with emotions, and publicly maintaining a mistress is a cruel punishment for a wife who has no control over her disease.

    If this woman really wants to have a relationship with the husband, the husband needs to talk to his wife about it.  Perhaps a divorce is in order, perhaps the wife will give her blessing.  Either way, this poor woman deserves to know she is being cuckolded.

    LW#2-Your parents appear to have lost their minds from the stress of bankruptcy and divorce.  It’s not clear how old you are, but it seems a bit odd that you were living with them in the first place.  If you are over 18, then it’s time to grow up.  Contact your mother and make it clear that you must get your posessions back, then find a new place to live.  And the animal lover in me is extremely concerned that you don’t mentioned what your theiving, psychotic parents did with your cat.  I’m hoping against hope it’s being taken care of properly and hasn’t been ritually sacrificed by your nutbarn of a mother.

  9. avatar R Scott says:

    LW2 – Is your cat okay?

  10. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – What a great, thoughtful and intelligent response to a delicate situation. Very nice.

  11. avatar Anne Talvaz says:

    LW#1 – The wife may have become forgetful, but she is not unconscious. I have a friend with a severe degenerative condition who is not expected to live much longer, and soon after she was diagnosed her husband took up with another woman. I can see how terrified of loneliness the husband must have been, but he was completely tactless about it and as a result my friend suffered horrendous emotional pain she did not need – all the more so as No.2 is not a very nice person (she went out of her way to make the affair public) and my friend will be leaving a teenage son behind. So please, LW#1, do what you must but keep it discreet, and if you have dependent children make sure they are well provided for.

    Just so’s you know: fortunately my friend has been able to come to an arrangement with her older son and various friends in case the younger boy is driven out of his home.

    • avatar Jane Jordan says:

      It’s so typical of men to run off to another woman as soon as the wife gets sick or dies. They don’t really love at all.

  12. avatar Katie themick says:

    Wow, I hope that if I’m in my 50s and in a nursing home and pretty much incapacitated physically, that my spouse would find some emotional support and happiness somewhere. Whether it was a friend or lover. I mean that. I can’t imagine expecting anyone to not love again if I was really ill for years and years and had to be taken care of for all that time.

    • avatar chuck alien says:

      this is what i’m saying… i can’t imagine a (debilitated) wife that loved her husband would have much of a problem with this.

      “I can’t give you happiness, but i don’t want you finding happiness anywhere else” seems like sort of a selfish attitude.

      just don’t do it in front of her, for goodness sake.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        LW1: What is it about dysfunctional situations that make them so romantic to some people? I think this scenario is kind of gross, actually—but here’s my two cents’ worth.

        This man has a sick spouse—that’s the hand of cards he was dealt. If he doesn’t like the situation, he should divorce her. The idea that he’s cheating on her—with you—is not a bit different than what John Edwards did to his wife Elizabeth, which happened while she had breast cancer, I believe. Personally, I think you should ask either the wife or another nursing professional what their opinion of such a situation would be. I seriously doubt that the wife would be the noble, selfless spouse we all like to think resides inside of us—in fact, you’d probably break her heart. As for the nursing professional—I think they would call you unethical at the very least.

        Also, he’s in for the long haul—so you better be prepared to take that short stick whenever it’s offered, even if it’s for years and years. He’s going to expect you to do all the giving and the being flexible and understanding—since that’s the dynamic with which you’ve started. This is actually all about him, you know. Oh, and that white elephant in the room. And if his family ever finds out or suspects that something has been going on—they’re going to hate your guts. The fact that you had contact with her for five years is certainly not going to be in your favor. Seriously, is that what you want to look forward to from your relationship?

        LW2: “After sending terrified texts…”
        Is there something wrong with your phone? Your car? Your ability to go straight to your mother and say: “Please give me my things right now, so I can put them in my own storage unit?”

      • avatar chuck alien says:

        this is not in any way comparable to Elizabeth Edwards. really, that’s just ridiculous.

        Edwards was a vibrant, completely mentally present and the same person she’s always been, just dealing with a medical disease…. vs. an invalid, MS for 30 years, on her way to senile, not mentally present or able to be a wife in any real way.

        those are just not comparable.

        and the romantic part is that this poor guy who has been without any sort of human affection for years finally found a way to be a little happy.

        yup, that’s gross alright. good call.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Sorry—I don’t believe in selective ethics or being there for my spouse as long as it doesn’t infringe on my right to get laid. And are we talking about love here, or are we talking about sex? If the man were out hiring prostitutes instead, would it make a difference? The woman is still incapacitated, after all—while he’s out finding his crumbs of happiness on the motel carpet.

        I think the LW is probably a nice lady, and simply wants some help seeing through an obviously murky situation. However—I stand by my belief that this scenario is probably not destined to end well for anyone involved, and in fact could have serious repercussions on the LW’s personal and professional life if the wrong person were to find out what she’s been doing. While many people on this board want to believe that everything should turn out all soft focus and rosy for Their True Love In The Face Of Dire Straits, the real world usually doesn’t generate that end result. I would imagine things will drag on and on, and eventually involve some highly upset and possibly vindictive children and/or siblings. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that.

      • avatar Lori says:

        Chuck, I was so offended by your comment that I actually had to create an account to reply.  Do you even know what multiple sclerosis is? 

        As a patient with MS, I can promise you that most (if not all) MS patients have most (if not all) if their mental abilities. 

        MS is a breakdown of the nervous system, so that messages from the brain may not be completely transmitted to the rest of the body.  As a result, patients may have difficulty moving their limbs, standing, walking, taking care of activities of daily life (showering, dressing, etc.).  While it is also possible that there can be “misfires” in signals within the brain, so that people with MS may appear “forgetful” or cannot think of the word they want, they are completely mentally present, completely frustrated with the limits on their abilities, irritated at not knowing what new physical symptoms may appear from day to day, but in NO way on the way “to senile.”

        I was diagnosed with MS four years ago.  I like to think I am just as witty, vibrant, and mentally present, as I was before then.  I can still carry on a conversation over dinner, discuss current events, operate a motor vehicle, hold a license to practice law (and actually do so), and even post on this forum.  I realize that I am “lucky” in that I still have most of my physical abilities.  I have just realized that I need to limit my exposure to heat, recognize when I have pushed myself too far and just need to rest, and know that some days I am going to wake up feeling like crap and want to stay in bed all day. 

        But, based on your knowledge of MS, when should I expect the senility to sit it?

      • avatar youjane says:

        “I like to think I am just as witty, vibrant, and mentally present, as I was before then.”

        I agree!

        I also registered solely because of chuck alien’s moronic comment. I’m glad to see all that needs to be said has been said already.

        As for the first letter writer, I agree with David Bolton 100%. What this seems to come down to is conveniently ignoring marriage vows because marriage has become inconvenient. In sickness and in health, till death do us part…you know, not *too* sick though, really, just those times when you are sexually fulfilling me. Yeah, then we’re good to go.

        I hate, hate, hate this ‘new’ thing of it being A-OK to have an affair as long as your spouse is at least mildy incapacitated. This is seriously advice columnists’ go-to thing now. As soon as I read the freaking headline I knew what Margo’s advice would be.

      • avatar chuck alien says:

        1) 40-60% of MS patients suffer cognitive impairment. Is that like “most?”

        2) 30 years is the mean time of death from diagnosis.

        3) 4 years is much less than 30 years. So while I hope you don’t suffer (more) cognitive problems, your case doesn’t really relate to this couple’s experience. We’ll check back in another 25.

        4) better a moron than a self-righteous busybody completely lacking in empathy or compassion.

        If his long-time disabled wife refuses him all physical happiness until she dies… Then she is selfish and has very out-of-whack priorities.

        And demanding he divorce his disabled wife just to find that happiness is nuts. How is divorcing the woman going to help anyone? So she can get back out on the dating scene?

      • avatar Lori says:

        Chuck,

        First, would you please cite sources for your statistics? 

        1.  Do you realize that “cognitive impairment” is a very broad term?  It could mean everything from forgetting to turn the lights off or where you left your keys, to an inability to drive due to a lack of spatial information processing.  Again, it is not the same as “senility” or an inability to recognize people or remember the past.
        http://ms.about.com/od/signssymptoms/a/cognitive_over.htm

        2.  Do you realize that “mean” is the same as average?  That means that for every person who lives 5 years past the date of diagnosis, there is someone else who lives 55?  All of the sources I have consulted (and there have been many) indicate that patients with MS have a normal, or near normal, life expectancy.
        http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/multiple-sclerosis/overview.html#Outlook-Prognosis

        3.  I’m not saying that my experiences are the same as this woman’s.  I, for one, realize that MS affects EVERY patient differently.  I do not know the extent of her disability, nor do I pretend to do so.  While I obviously take a more optimistic outlook, I believe your overly-pessimistic outlook is not necessary.

        4.  Are you suggesting that I lack empathy or compassion?  What about compassion for the wife?  Shouldn’t she know what her huband is doing or contemplating?  How would the wife be selfish for expecting her husband to stand by her as she deals with an illness that she never asked for?

        Again, I am not “demanding” that the husband divorce his wife, but I do think she should be consulted.  She may realize that there are ways she may not be able to fulfill her hsuband’s needs, and she may welcome the opportunity for her husband to fulfill those needs elsewhere.  She also may take their wedding vowes seriously and prefer to be divorced if her husband would rather have an affair.  While she may not be “back out on the dating scene,” she would at least know where she stood and what to expect.  She would also be free to develop other relationships, and emotional attachments, to those who understand what she is experiencing, without feeling guilty for how such a relationship may affect her husband.

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        Your inability (or unwillingness) to grasp the ethical complexities of this situation have veered from the slightly disturbing to incredible.

        Assuming this man is on the up-and-up and is simply looking for happiness—it stands to reason that if he’s in love with the LW, he owes it not only to her and his current wife, but to HIMSELF to let the first relationship go (at least from a marriage dynamic) so that he can proceed with the second. There is absolutely no valid justification for him to remain married to someone who cannot provide him with what he needs physically or emotionally—especially if it has driven him to the point where he has begun having an affair (which may or may not be the first—we don’t know). We also don’t know that the wife is some sort of shrew-harpy who has decided in her illness to withdraw all physical/sexual contact from her husband, thus forcing him to look elsewhere in his time of need.

        Period—end of story. There’s nothing you can try to logic that will change the fact that this man has better and more ethical ways to deal with this situation than the avenues he has currently chosen. And implying that this is somehow the woman’s fault not only makes you look like an utter a**hole—but also a sociopath who has no sense of empathy other than for what’s in his pants.

      • avatar butterfly55 says:

        I would say that it is not a decision to withdraw sexual contact, it is the inabiltiy to give it.  There is a major difference.  When you don’t have the use of your body to do what you wish and have not had for 30 years makes for a very bad sexual situation.  Put yourself of having live with the  that position for 5 years and see how you like it.  He loves the woman he married but also has normal needs.

      • avatar Lepidopter Phoenyx says:

        “He loves the woman he married but also has normal needs.”

        He has opposable thumbs, does he not? He can get a bottle of Astroglide and take care of his own needs.

      • avatar butterfly55 says:

        Obviously you are not in the same situation as the wife in letter 1 who has been in a nursing home for many years, MS is a disease that has been getting a lot of new treatments coming out for it so you most likely will never reach that point, but that doesn’t help people who had it for 30 years.  Be happy for yourself but realize she was not as lucky as you.

  13. avatar martina says:

    We have the opposite problem of LW1 – my mother, who had a stroke 1 1/2 years ago; is paralyzed on the right side; cannot walk; cannot speak (she has aphasia) and her reasoning is very compromised, all of a sudden thinks that my father is carrying on with the aid that comes in the morning to get my mother ready for the day.  The aid is married and has been taking care of my mother for almost a year now and is wonderful at what she does.  She gets my mother ready for the day and then a bus picks Mom up to bring her to a day center and the aid would then leave after Mom did.  We now have the aid leaving before Mom does because we are hoping to stop Mom’s suspicions because do not want to lose the aid as she has had a good relationship with my mother. 
    Dad has insisted on having Mom at home, it is a lot of work for my siblings and me, because his love for her is boundless.  Which makes this so sad because she just cannot see that.  My father is friendly with the aid as he is friendly with everyone and my mother sees this as evidence of their carrying on. I think her greatest fear is not that he is physically involved with someone but that he does not love her any longer.  We have tried explaining to her that if there was something going on that he would have put her in a home but this makes no difference because of her compromised reasoning and again, it is not the physical aspect of the relationship that concerns her so much as the emotional. 
    I would think that in order for LW1 to have a relationship with the husband with any kind of a clear conscience the relationship between the husband and wife would have to be completely dead on both sides, not just physically but also emotionally or the wife would have to be so far gone mentally as to not know what’s going on in her surroundings.  Just because she’s forgetful doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t catch on to what is going on and be hurt by it. No one should have someone on the side without ending or the relationship that they now have. Can he do that with a clear conscience?  If not, LW1 will always be “the other woman”.
     

  14. avatar Marie Meloy says:

    My mother was 70 and a widow, when she met a man a few years older whose wife was in a nursing home and had been for 5 or so years, she had dementia and really didn’t know who he was.  They met at a club for people from their home state, and found they both had a love of music, she sang and played the piano, and he played the organ, they were both religious, and also very lonesome.  They began performing at their club, as well as at a Senior Center, and the nursing home where his wife lived, as well as other nursing homes in the area……they were very well received and were given awards for their volunteer service at the Sr. Centers.   As time went on, they developed a very close relationship and eventually, even at their ages, became intimate…….meanwhile they, as a couple, visited his wife weekly and after about a year, she died.   They waited a decent amount of time and married, and had 8 lovely years together, until he had a stroke and died.  My mother was happier with him than she had been with my father, and I was happy she found love and companionship in her “golden years”.   Life is too short to worry about what people will think, only this couple knows what is right for them, and I wish them much happiness.

    • avatar amw says:

      The LW said “forgetful” NOT dementia. Obviously its hard to tell exactly how mentally disabled this woman may be based on the contents of the letter, but what isn’t in there seems more indicative. I think the LW gave just enough information to be given consent. IF the patient is still conscious and capable, she still has feelings and therefore could be heartbroken which would only escalate the problems that have already arisen.

      What ever happened to “in sickness and in health, til death do us part?”

      If they are still able to maintain an emotional relationship, it is an affair, plain and simple.

  15. avatar uniq says:

    I think this is the first time I have (respectfully) disagreed with Margo’s advice on both counts.
    For LW#1: No it isn’t wrong to have feelings, feelings are never wrong. But acting on them in this case is. I would advise you to remain as a friend in the situation, and a friend only, until the wife’s untimely passing. Put yourself in the wife’s place. Wouldn’t you be devastated if the one you love turned their back on you in your hour of greatest need? Don’t you think the wife is lonely being stuck in a nursing home? If you can’t remain friends until that time, extricate yourself from the situation, post haste. Yes, it will hurt you to not have the man that you care about, but your conscience will be clear. As some have said, “If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer.”
    LW#2: Find out where your mother is staying now, if you don’t know already. Call her and tell her you are showing up on this day and time with a truck, and you will expect your things to be together and ready for transport. If she refuses, take her to small claims. Your mother is acting like a spoiled child with a skinned knee and you don’t have to take it. Once you get your things back, tell her not to let the door hit her on the way out of your life. If she ever gets herself together, I’m sure she knows where to find you. Do your best to stay out of the middle of the divorce, it’s not your fault, and you don’t have to fix anything. But neither do you have to be kicked around by the ones hurting. To the poster who said the LW needs to grow up, you have no idea why s/he was living with her parents. Maybe s/he was putting her/his income towards the family bills to try and save the house. Maybe s/he was living at home while attending college (many children do this). Perhaps s/he had fallen on hard times and this was a temporary situation. We can’t tell from the letter, so have a little compassion for the LW in a bad situation.

  16. avatar BeanCounter says:

    Regarding LW1, I hope that by encouraging this relationship it doesn’t in any way draw from the attention the husband should be giving to his wife who is institutionalized.   It is a for better or worse situation, and this is obviously the worst.   I hope he doesn’t stop visiting her, talking to her, giving her his attention, because her mind is still active, and without any sort of stimulation, this could be an unbearable torment for her to just lay there unable to move with full mental function.   I hope he doesn’t “move on” and abandon this woman in need.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      I think it’s very important for the LW1 to realize what this man’s behavior and choices are saying about him as a potential partner, and as a human being. Is he lonely, or selfish? Should he be commended for sticking with his wife for 30 years of illness, or considered to be undependable for screwing around on her? Is this the first time, or are there others? How will his feelings for the LW affect his feelings of responsibility for his wife—if he abandons her to be with his new love, what is the LW supposed to think?

      It sounds like a bad situation from any angle—why anyone would want to be involved with another person burdened by so much emotional baggage is beyond me.

  17. avatar Lepidopter Phoenyx says:

    The only way it would be ethical for a married person to seek sex from someone other than his/her spouse would be with the spouse’s EXPLICIT permission.

  18. avatar Cindy Tran says:

    I think the most hurtful part of a partner cheating is the part where they are sneaking around and keeping secrets. I think the husband should talk to his wife about it. He should tell her that he’s not planning to leave her but he wants to pursue something casual on the side. He might be surprised. If she loves him, she will want him to be happy and will understand that she’s not capable of giving him what he needs and effectively give him permission to find it elsewhere. If it were me, I would put away my initial feelings of jealousy and let him do it rather than tell him he’s not allowed to do anything until I die and that I was planning to be around for the next 30 years.

    • avatar amw says:

      I’m sure we would all love to think that we could be so self-sacrificing to put our partner’s sexual needs above our emotional needs.

      The jealousy wouldn’t pass…if it rears its ugly little head in the beginning, it will continue to do so. And the only thing that it will do is destroy what little relationship you have left.

      • avatar Cindy Tran says:

        I don’t believe that. I think jealousy will show up initially because you’re confronted with the realization that you’re no longer able to fulfill your partner’s needs and you want to be the person to fulfill his needs rather than this other person. If you can get past taking it personally and realizing that he still loves you and come to the realization that you do want him to be happy, you can get past the jealousy. It’s difficult because people are raised to believe that they can only love one person and you get scared that he’s going to leave you. LW sounds like a nice lady who would encourage the husband to see his wife rather than demanding he divorce the wife to be with her. Do you prefer the sneaking around? Ignorance is bliss? I would rather know. I can learn to share.

      • avatar amw says:

        If he is telling another woman that he loves HER, I think there IS a problem.

        To answer your question, I do not believe ignorance is bliss. I also believe that marriage should be monogamous. If my spouse can’t remain faithful to me, he warrants no special place in my life. Why is it MY job to sacrifice myself? Why should I be the “bigger person” and willing to share?

        What would you do if your husband said, “I’m sorry hunny, I love you but you no longer satisfy me sexually. I’m going to find someone that can meet these needs.” Would your response be, “Ok honey, have a good time. Dinner’s at 7!” Of course not. That would be utterly ridiculous…unless you had that type of relationship from the beginning.

        Study up on MS. This woman is fully functioning mentally. Perhaps sex is out of the question but there are other methods that don’t involve adultery. She may be disabled…but she isn’t dead!

  19. avatar flyonthewall says:

    I guess I get to be unpopular, too, and go against Margo. In my heart of hearts I keep coming back to the same thought. No, I don’t think an affair can ever be ethical. The vows that I made to my partner were “in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, till death do we part”. I could never break those vows. It would be selfish. I love my partner way too much to even consider taking up with someone else, even if he was unable to have a physical relationship with me. I’ve known many couples who were in that predicament. A few divorced and a good many rode it out to the spouse’s death. Mr. Wow’s recent article about doing undo others as we would have others do undo ourselves comes to mind. I would not want my spouse abandoning me if I were the ill one. My gut feeling is that if lw is so miserable in his marriage to this sick woman, he should end the marriage rather than do something in secrecy. Affairs hurt. Why not just man up and come clean with the wife and spare her the agony of finding out eventually? Make the cut clean and neat so she can get on with her life. Who knows? Maybe she has yet to find the love of her life despite her debilities. Who’s to say?

  20. avatar I am "Yearning" says:

    I am LW#2. This is the first time I’m replying anywhere regarding a letter I submitted, so please excuse the disjointedness of my reply as I’m trying to answer all the questions raised in the comments.

    To everyone concerned for my cat: Thank you. She’s doing just fine now that she’s with me. My grandma loves her to death. :)

    I got my things & my cat back about a month after I wrote this letter. My relationship with my mother is…getting there. We don’t speak often, & when we do it’s “surface” stuff. She still thinks that what she did was right, & that’s where we clash. However, she did apologize for putting me through so much at the time.

    My parents’ divorce was finalized just after New Year’s. As part of the divorce agreement, she now has total ownership of the house, & she told me that she worked out some kind of agreement with the bank in order to keep the house. That’s all I know. There’s still a lot of residual anger & I’m navigating the new landscape as best as I know how.

    I lived with my parents because the area I grew up in
    1) has a high cost of living & the only way I could afford even a studio apartment on my wages at the time was to find a roomie;
    2) at the time the fiasco happened, I was collecting unemployment after I lost my job.

    Rest assured that while I lived under their roof, I contributed a portion of my earnings & unemployment check to help cover their expenses, did chores, picked up a few groceries when needed, etc. I’m not the sort that’ll take advantage of people.

    Texting: Both my parents are deaf & I am moderately hearing impaired, thus the reason for the texting.

    The area I live in now is an hour & a state away from my childhood home. I do not drive (personal reasons). Neither does my grandma (health reasons). That is why I didn’t just hop into a car & drive down to gather my things. However, I was *this close* to having her arrested, & had gone so far as to call the local police department to inquire about my rights in this situation.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      I’ve been in a similar situation with my own mom. It never occurred to me about a hearing issue with the texting—obviously that’s one of the caveats with email as well, since you can’t “hear” the tone in someone’s typed voice.

      Glad that things are working out for you—and hopefully with your mother.

    • avatar Jean B says:

      Yearning,

      Just read your post. I’m glad things are working out for you. I hope your mother can get over her anger and bitterness, but please don’t hold your breath. Go on with your life, be happy, and if things are going to get better between you two it will happen, but it can’t be forced.

      Good luck to you.

  21. avatar Ashley Carter says:

    To LW1: I can’t help but remember my pastor’s advice regarding these kinds of situations. He would say that we should stand firm by a rule in general (no affairs, etc) but be gracious with individuals. Clearly LW1′s intention is not to cause pain but to bring love and joy to the person she loves. This is not a time for by-the-letter rules, but for gracious understanding of intentions.

  22. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Sometimes the passion leaves an otherwise good marriage. The husband takes a mistress. Everything and everyone remains in place.  And in some cases, it works. As long as there are no illusions.  But there usually are.  The man still loves his wife. And likes the mistress.

    This is not a case of the passion leaving an otherwise good marriage. This is a case of a man who simply wants to replace a “non-functioning” wife.  Apparently with a “functioning” mistress.

    John McCain and Newt Gingrich did the same. And somehow their marrying the mistress made  it all the worse. And I would never vote for either of them on that basis. Neither have any place talking about “family values” when they themselves could not accept the most basic of those values which is the marriage contract. 

    I was on the backstreet four times. And had any of them had told me they were leaving their wife for me, I would have made it clear they were not.  That we were “part-time.”  Not “full-time.”  I always ended it before that even was considered. Maybe it works for others.  Didn’t work for me.  No regrets. But then I had no illusions.

    • avatar myopinion says:

      I find it interesting that those who think the affair is ok, and that the wife in LW1 would even give her blessing, are only thinking about the husband’s needs.  Some have even given the wife a senility existence when the LW says she is able to carry on a conversation.  And that is the whole point of the situation.  The wife still has thoughts and feelings, and yes, needs herself.  That she is physically trapped inside her body and unable to do so many things she may long to do does not make her needs and feelings less important than the husband’s.  To have an affair behind her back is a betrayal.  If she is ok with her husband having a physical – which can not help but also lead to emotional – liason with another woman, then fine.  Again, that’s the point of the situation. The LW is looking for permission to do this behind the wife’s back.  If the LW thinks she will be hurt by it, and they don’t want to hurt her, then don’t.

  23. avatar cb says:

    Wow, so much judgment. I understand the sensitivity on the part of so many of you who have had a similar situation in your family, but please go back and re-read the response of “Pdr de” who actually lived it. And take special note of the fact that she said she felt less alone after he passed than when he was alive and NO ONE came to call or ask after her, let alone offer help. I’ve seen this in my in-law’s experience and it was heartbreaking. If she had had an opportunity to take advantage of a “special friendship” it would have meant the world to her. It would not have meant that she loved her husband less.

    • avatar youjane says:

      I’d put a little more stock in your statement if “Pdr de” was the one (hypothetically) being cheated on.

  24. avatar Miss Lee says:

    I have worked with people with MS and I would like the writer of letter one to consider two things.
    The wife will know.  Most people who have MS and have progressed far enough to have to be in an institution are very good observers.  As their physical limitations increase, their minds do not deteriate except from boredum.  So they observe life as it goes on around them, keenly aware that it is passing them by.  She has been waiting for this betrayal and she will be able to read it in his face, his voice and his non-verbal cues. 

    If you were her nurse, odds are you and she have a very intimate relationship.  You probably bathed her and helped her with her bathroom needs.  She trusted you when she was in her most vulnerable moments.  This betrayal won’t come from a stranger but someone whom she has trusted to care for her dignity as well as her body. 

    You decide if you want to live in the shadows and yet judged by all who know, and everybody will come to know.  Can you live with that price?

  25. avatar JZachry says:

    LW1 – The only way this affair can be considered “okay” is if the wife is made aware and gives her blessing. Anything else is wrong. It sounds as if LW thinks that b/c she is “forgetful” she may not understand or comprehend.

    LW2 – Glad things have settled down for you and your cat is back with you. Good luck to you!