The dilemma of an older spouse
I am lucky enough to have found my soulmate. Yet he is aging as I watch.
He has Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy, and his muscles are weakening. His focus softening. He is no longer the doer I sometimes need. On occasion, he doesn’t hear me, or isn’t paying attention, or makes an appointment at the wrong time.
I witness my disappointment because I can see him slowly leaving me, and I also witness my love, for I have the honor of tending him as he slows down. I am left with a choice. I can resent my husband’s limitations, or I can be a compassionate witness and helper.
After a bit of internal processing, I choose to open my heart and feel the honor I have in being there for a person I adore, as he drifts into old age.
Instead of self-talk that says I have to do everything myself (which isn’t true, but this is the thought that comes up, coupled with the feeling of abandonment), I tell myself that he does help me a lot and that he cannot do everything I wish he can do. I choose to look past the little frustrations and see our big love. Staying stuck in disappointment robs me of the beauty of what is between us.
This is a powerful lesson for me. And it is one that requires I change my default and automatic responses and reactions. And so, I must make myself anew.
When we first met, it was head over heels for both of us. After the few months it took him to fully disengage from a previous relationship, we were both completely in. I had never thought there was such a thing as a soulmate (although I loved the idea) until I met him.
It wasn’t always smooth. We found we triggered each other and didn’t know what to do once that happened. We both pulled away. I, because I was in pain and needed to process and figure out how to communicate. Him because he also was in pain and didn’t see any other options.
Over time, we learned to reach towards each other when we were upset. I learned to tell my husband, that even though he was hurting and I was hurting, I loved him and I cared, and I didn’t mean for him to feel bad. He learned to talk about his experience (feeling blue and upset in his stomach), and I helped him link this to what he experienced when he was a child.
We both had unhappy starts in terms of relating. But we transcended the ghosts of our early difficulties and lack of relational skills in our time together. That alone has been an amazing gift and only one of many.
We rarely end up in those painful places now. We’ve gained skills that allow us to react differently and be there for each other in much healthier ways. We have each learned so much by being together. We have enjoyed being a part of each other’s life and purpose.
I wish we had forever. But we don’t. So now, each moment is truly precious. Like the ebb and flow of blood as the heart beats, so too there is ebb and flow in our relationships. I am doing my best to embrace not just the flow, but the bittersweet of the ebb as well.