Major Changes as Spouses Age

Posted by joyces @joyces, Apr 14, 2020

My second husband and I met while both of us worked in the sport fishing industry, he in a tackle shop only a couple years into the industry, and me working for a publisher of sport fishing magazines and books, a decade into the industry. Our first "date" was fishing together and watching steelhead attempt to leap over a waterfall. He became the second editor of the fly fishing magazine the publisher and I had started five years earlier. Although my job managing the publication of two magazines, a quarterly, an annual, and six books/year was demanding and meant working an average of 70 hours/week, I was paid well and loved it. Because he was a male, the publisher expected him to be off fishing at least a couple of days every week. We were able to fish at many luxury lodges because we made a great writing/photography team. I'm five years older, so expected that we would be able to age–and fish–together. After a few years, the publisher's children were old enough to be a big part of the business, so we started our own design and marketing business to serve the sport fishing industry. We shared an 18' driftboat we'd helped design…and market, of course! Lots of work, but lots of wonderful times spent together.

Eleven years ago, he ruptured a disc in his lower back, had surgery by a really bad fellow who sought out people with underlying health conditions so that he could claim repeated surgery (at his day surgery center, of course) was necessary. Three back surgeries in one year, the final one a fusion. He had persistent pain, was a brittle diabetic with less than 30% kidney function, but he worked full time for our boat mfg. client while I did all the nuts and bolts of design and marketing for all our clients. We still fished every few days, except in the worst of winter weather. He trailered stacks of boats to nine trade shows every winter, each show being a five-day event generally several hours distant. Eight years ago, he had to go on dialysis, so he couldn't travel to trade shows but continued to sell boats from the factory. Even though he was working full time and going to dialysis three nights a week, we still fished most weekends. I continued to do fish surveys in a wild little stream, a project we had started together in 1993, even though following back surgery he wasn't able to hike long distances over difficult terrain. The project is closing in on 30 years, and I'm still volunteering in the same wild watershed.

When he got the kidney transplant, I visualized great days ahead. At the same time, he had planned to retire, i.e., do absolutely nothing, not even the few chores he had been doing around the house, because he felt he had earned retirement. Hmmm…what about those years where I worked long hours while, because he was male, he was allowed to "work" onstream???? His recovery was ultra-smooth, perfect labs, virtually no fine-tuning necessary for the various meds. When he came home from the hospital, he began his retirement routine: he reclines in his recliner and expects me to fetch whatever he needs. He eats all his meals there, watches TV, reads…except for frequent breaks to lie on the couch. We moved to this acreage on the coast, which I had initially purchased when I was 19, and, as a retired person, he expected me to do the packing, haul everything out to the trailer and van, drive it here, and pack much of it upstairs to our new loft. After six months, he had lost most most of his muscle tone, and he had far worse pain. Since then, I've tried to get him to go to PT many times. He did go to a local person, who gave him a pass from doing anything even slightly difficult; that was relatively worthless and only lasted a few weeks. Later, I insisted that he return to the pain mgmt. clinic to which he'd been referred by the transplant team. They sent him to a PT who expected him to work, but she gave up on his lack of progress after 10 months. Since then, he rarely leaves the house other than for doc appts. I nagged him into joining the local fly fishing club, and he did agree to go on a very easy outing, the first time he'd fished at all in years. However, after 15 minutes of me rowing him around a lake, he announced he needed to lie down. I left him at the car and rowed around the lake for 45 minutes or so, got a great photo of a heron and test casted a new fly rod. it's too difficult for him to sit upright more than a short time, so lots of activities are not open to us. If I suggest dinner out, he insists on ordering takeout, which isn't the same at all. I never expected that marrying someone five years younger would work out this badly! Once a week, I escape by making the 110-mile drive to the Portland area to load 400-600 loaves of bread donated to our local Backpack program. That's an entire day away from watching him steadily lose balance function and strength. If he gets much worse, I'll need to use all the money we've saved to pay for care at the only decent facility in this small town. Meanwhile, I work every day to conquer my problems with lack of balance and hearing due to the reappearance almost a year ago of the Meniere's monster. I'm working hard to get a remission in order to lock him in the closet and nail it shut! No matter how bad I feel, I am not retired but must keep the household running, care for the pets, do all the yardwork that acreage requires. Bah, humbug!

I know I'm not the only woman in this situation. The founder of our local Backpack program has the same problem with her husband, only in his case it's following successful foot surgery, even though he refuses to do PT to regain his ability to walk. They also live on acreage, and we often laugh about our similar situations.

Maryflorida, you're ahead of me! My husband, now 73 (I'm 78) has been insulin-dependent for 40 years or so. He's had problems with "the general saluting" for decades. For a while, we got by with a pump. At the time, his kidney function was low, but not even close to dialysis/transplant. When he was 62, he had three failed back surgeries, done by a doc who turned out to be a real quack, was later sued by 38 patients. (He actually targeted people with underlying health problems so that he have an excuse for doing repeated surgeries on them.) For four years, he had back pain, failed to do the assigned PT (with two different providers), but worked full time in a fairly active job selling and demonstrating boats, plus was on dialysis the last two years–and we boated and fished most weekends. When he got the transplant, I hoped it would help his general well-being, but, instead, it was the end of everything. He announced he was "retired," which he believes means he does absolutely nothing. After four months of no exercise, he was having severe pain. I dragged him to the pain clinic, where they said he'd need to do intense PT in order to gain some muscle tone before they could even decently evaluate him. He refused. He sat all day every day, alternating that with lying on the couch…no walking, no movement, zip. After five years of increasing pain, I dragged him back to the pain clinic, and he started biweekly PT–but failed to follow through at home without horrible fights. After 10 months, the PT woman gave up, and I certainly don't blame her. It's been two years since, and he's far worse. With the excuse of Covid, he's only left the house for me to drive him to the nearby hospital for labs every three months, and he's gotten far, far worse. We were evacuated three weeks ago due to forest fires, and the 5.5 hours sitting in the car (much of it only a half mile from home) was far too much for him, so it was another big downturn.
I've had some difficult times myself, due to Meniere's going bilateral. For a few months, I had ever-increasing bouts of V&V (vertigo and vomiting) until they were a daily event of several hours lying without moving. Finally found a local doc willing to prescribe hormones, regained the hearing I'd lost and got more stable. Increased the stability by going to a vestibular rehab specialist and have done the exercises ever since, with great good effect. I still hike miles in a wild little river a two-hour drive from home…entirely by myself, no cell reception whatsoever, just me and my dog. Due to volunteering for Backpack for Kids, I drive two hours each way every Wed. to load, give or take, 500 loaves of bread…then unload and pack it into freezers the next morning, followed by pulling bread frozen the previous week to distribute to various charities around town. Since the fire (which took 245 houses just outside our town), I've been volunteering every day to distribute and store food, esp. perishables. I'm exhausted, mostly because of the evacuees showing me photo after photo of what used to be their homes. We're all masked, so sometimes the only thing to do is give someone a big hug (Covid be damned). As I'm sure you've realized, we're stuck in an unfortunate situation where the last years of our lives are not what we had hoped at all. Still, seeing all those photos of burnt homes makes me extremely grateful that this place is still standing. It looks awfully good right now!

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@lioness

@maryflorida Going to jump on here my husband was a diabetic for 30+ yrs and did become important it was hard on him also not to be as before but he also had a stroke so between the 2it was hard on both of us but more on me as I was still attractive that's life I think with diabetes on men especially

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I hate auto writing it wrote after I corrected it maybe you can read through the unforseen writing

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@gingerw

@joyces What I am about to say may be taken a few different ways, by many. I am speaking from my own personal experience, and am not lecturing, nor telling you what to do. It comes from a place of concern for both of you. People are creatures of habit. We get used to doing certain things, and even enhancing that. Those actions are not always a positive.

Doing for others can be seen as a sign of partnership, of love, of wanting to help. But sometimes what we see as being helpful, can be the other person taking advantage of you. As it escalates, each one loses their true self in the spiral. I have been there/done that/got the T-shirt! The one doing becomes resentful, angry, exhausted. The one receiving may also become resentful, angry, and exhausted. Changing the behaviors that have become habit is very hard, but not not doable. But it takes both parties to want to make that effort. Without cooperation and working together to be better able to have a good relationship, it won't happen. Stating limits will no doubt cause frustration as a new normal slowly evolves. That frustration may come out as irritation, ignoring the other, shouting matches, slammed doors, etc. One thing I never allowed was physical abuse. And when I tried to make the changes to a more balanced relationship, and received no support/effort from the other person, I had to make the decision to stay or go, for my own well-being. That simple. Because I had to value myself more.

Was it easy? Heck, no. Did it all take a toll on me? Oh, you bet! Physically, mentally, emotionally, financially. But having made the decision to have a healthier relationship, I tried what I could to accomplish my side of things. Was it worth it? Yes!

He won't change unless you do, too.
Ginger

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@ginger, @joyces, Ginger, your response was a powerful post and one worth re-reading if a person is as conflict adverse as I was for many, many years. My situation years ago was much like the one you describe. Also very change adverse, it took far too long and too much invested physical and emotional energy, tongue biting and loss of self-esteem for me to eventually make a decision to leave the relationship. The spouse wouldn't consider couple counseling. That was one of the hardest but best and healthiest decisions I ever made. I now do not believe that we were put on earth to "save" the other guy but rather that each healthy relationship requires some give and take, compromise and willingness to change. If that can not occur, then it is time to consider other options.

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@joyces

As far as counseling goes, this horse can't even be led to water. <g>

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@joyces, I love that your sense of humor is still in tact! Way to go! Smiles

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@joyces

Maryflorida, you're ahead of me! My husband, now 73 (I'm 78) has been insulin-dependent for 40 years or so. He's had problems with "the general saluting" for decades. For a while, we got by with a pump. At the time, his kidney function was low, but not even close to dialysis/transplant. When he was 62, he had three failed back surgeries, done by a doc who turned out to be a real quack, was later sued by 38 patients. (He actually targeted people with underlying health problems so that he have an excuse for doing repeated surgeries on them.) For four years, he had back pain, failed to do the assigned PT (with two different providers), but worked full time in a fairly active job selling and demonstrating boats, plus was on dialysis the last two years–and we boated and fished most weekends. When he got the transplant, I hoped it would help his general well-being, but, instead, it was the end of everything. He announced he was "retired," which he believes means he does absolutely nothing. After four months of no exercise, he was having severe pain. I dragged him to the pain clinic, where they said he'd need to do intense PT in order to gain some muscle tone before they could even decently evaluate him. He refused. He sat all day every day, alternating that with lying on the couch…no walking, no movement, zip. After five years of increasing pain, I dragged him back to the pain clinic, and he started biweekly PT–but failed to follow through at home without horrible fights. After 10 months, the PT woman gave up, and I certainly don't blame her. It's been two years since, and he's far worse. With the excuse of Covid, he's only left the house for me to drive him to the nearby hospital for labs every three months, and he's gotten far, far worse. We were evacuated three weeks ago due to forest fires, and the 5.5 hours sitting in the car (much of it only a half mile from home) was far too much for him, so it was another big downturn.
I've had some difficult times myself, due to Meniere's going bilateral. For a few months, I had ever-increasing bouts of V&V (vertigo and vomiting) until they were a daily event of several hours lying without moving. Finally found a local doc willing to prescribe hormones, regained the hearing I'd lost and got more stable. Increased the stability by going to a vestibular rehab specialist and have done the exercises ever since, with great good effect. I still hike miles in a wild little river a two-hour drive from home…entirely by myself, no cell reception whatsoever, just me and my dog. Due to volunteering for Backpack for Kids, I drive two hours each way every Wed. to load, give or take, 500 loaves of bread…then unload and pack it into freezers the next morning, followed by pulling bread frozen the previous week to distribute to various charities around town. Since the fire (which took 245 houses just outside our town), I've been volunteering every day to distribute and store food, esp. perishables. I'm exhausted, mostly because of the evacuees showing me photo after photo of what used to be their homes. We're all masked, so sometimes the only thing to do is give someone a big hug (Covid be damned). As I'm sure you've realized, we're stuck in an unfortunate situation where the last years of our lives are not what we had hoped at all. Still, seeing all those photos of burnt homes makes me extremely grateful that this place is still standing. It looks awfully good right now!

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We are definitely in the same situation. Even our husbands both being in sales. Vertigo for me too, and now hormones…You and I take care of ourselves, and them too. How amazing that you find the energy and time to help out! It doesn't sound like your husband has improved; is that right? I don't really need the entire lovemaking, but gentle kisses on the cheek, lightly touching my shoulder, saying "I love you" now and then would sure help. You are right; this is not what we had thought it would be. But, yes, it could be much worse! Btw, I am thankful for my kids.. I have 11 and they all help out us and each other where it is needed. One son bought us a lovely house even. They all live far away but I fly free since another son works for Southwest. I guess feeling unloved by a husband is not the end of the world. He does love me in his own way.

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@lioness

@maryflorida Going to jump on here my husband was a diabetic for 30+ yrs and did become important it was hard on him also not to be as before but he also had a stroke so between the 2it was hard on both of us but more on me as I was still attractive that's life I think with diabetes on men especially

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@lioness, you are a brave woman…And we are still attractive! I guess that's what diabetes does to men. If you ladies can deal with this, then I will also! I had not spoken to any other women about this, but it does help not to feel alone! Thank you!

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@maryflorida

@joyces, @gingerw, @indiana Scott Not sure where to post this, but… My 75 year old husband has had diabetes for 30 years, and kidney transplant in 2018. He has no interest in sex; he will say he does but that he is impotent. He cannot take testosterone the doctor said. I am 79, not overweight, healthy, fairly attractive, and feel sad that he spends so much time in his office watching youtube videos. Or is it just normal for older couples to stop making love? Can a man ever regain a little of his sexuality with these handicaps? Or not. We have sort of made love 3 times only in the last 10 months. Is there hope?

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Hi @maryflorida I can only answer this based on my observations and experiences. Please to not take this as 'mansplaining', but just me trying to answer your question.

During my wife's 14+ year war with brain cancer sex was the furthest thing from her mind and not ever even the remotest consideration. I understood this. Since she was fighting a deadly disease she had to focus where she was able and that was not sex. We found other ways to express our love for each other and understood that this was just one more change in our lives we hadn't anticipated nor did we enjoy. But in her words 'Scott, I'm sorry, but it is what it is'.

Here's my honest, individual take on this as a 69 year old man. I can say things don't work the same as they did when I was in my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. As much as I might want it to work the same it isn't and that's a tough issue for every man I've ever known who has been truthful about it. As a male, overcoming the concerns of not being able to perform up to the expectations of our partner can be extremely daunting and cause for avoiding sex. It's highly embarrassing to a man to not be as virile as he once was and avoidance can become far easier to manage at times. There are also the constant societal messages men get that there is always something you can do, or take, to be 20 again and the anxiety and guilt if you can't faces you in yet another way. Then when you add personal health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, major health interventions/surgeries, etc. and the actual fear of what might happen to you during sex can be huge. I know after my stroke I was petrified of what might happen to me when I got sexually aroused and involved.

Can a guy's sex life change later in life? I'm sure this is a highly individualize question for a guy to answer, so I cannot answer this for anyone else. I can only say the biggest factor for me was connecting with someone of the opposite sex who was understanding of the sexual realities, at least for me and some of us men, of simply being older.

So just my two cents plain.

Strength, courage, and peace

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@maryflorida

We are definitely in the same situation. Even our husbands both being in sales. Vertigo for me too, and now hormones…You and I take care of ourselves, and them too. How amazing that you find the energy and time to help out! It doesn't sound like your husband has improved; is that right? I don't really need the entire lovemaking, but gentle kisses on the cheek, lightly touching my shoulder, saying "I love you" now and then would sure help. You are right; this is not what we had thought it would be. But, yes, it could be much worse! Btw, I am thankful for my kids.. I have 11 and they all help out us and each other where it is needed. One son bought us a lovely house even. They all live far away but I fly free since another son works for Southwest. I guess feeling unloved by a husband is not the end of the world. He does love me in his own way.

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I think there are more of us than we know. Diabetes has hit here again, along with an aging brain. This is my second marriage, and our love has been epic, at least in my mind. Luckily our love for each other runs very deep and true. That is the most important thing to me. We're in our 80's, so our show of love has taken on a whole different meaning, but it's just as deep and true.

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@maryflorida

@lioness, you are a brave woman…And we are still attractive! I guess that's what diabetes does to men. If you ladies can deal with this, then I will also! I had not spoken to any other women about this, but it does help not to feel alone! Thank you!

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@maryflorida Your welcome

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@cldmeyers That is helpful. You must be a very sensitive man…

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@maryflorida

@cldmeyers That is helpful. You must be a very sensitive man…

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Ha ha! I'm married to a very sensitive man.

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@maryflorida

@joyces, @gingerw, @indiana Scott Not sure where to post this, but… My 75 year old husband has had diabetes for 30 years, and kidney transplant in 2018. He has no interest in sex; he will say he does but that he is impotent. He cannot take testosterone the doctor said. I am 79, not overweight, healthy, fairly attractive, and feel sad that he spends so much time in his office watching youtube videos. Or is it just normal for older couples to stop making love? Can a man ever regain a little of his sexuality with these handicaps? Or not. We have sort of made love 3 times only in the last 10 months. Is there hope?

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@maryflorida I read your post, and read @IndianaScott's reply also. He has helped enlighten more than one of us without a doubt.
I can reply only based on what i have read, and experienced.

There seems to be science that supports the theory that a male mind considers mostly the physical act of making love, not always the emotional impact also. Humans as a species need, and indeed crave, the touch of another being, human or animal, for good emotional health. From a female's mind perspective, lovemaking and touch can come in many forms. Frankly, my husband has a much higher libido than I do. I also struggle with very real chronic physical and mental health issues, and this leads me to being a less enthusiastic partner than he would prefer. But as I have told him, and as @IndianaScott experienced "it is what it is". I am sorry it is that way, but unless my mind is also in the game, my body and sexual drive isn't there.

If you and your partner are open to it, there is always counseling to try, to recover the feelings of closeness you both need. You certainly wouldn't be the first couple to try that. Frank, open, and loving discussions can also go a long way. My husband and I are newlyweds so to speak, in our mid to late 60s, but married less than 3 years, after being singles for a long time. We are making the real attempt to be open with each other, still learning about each other . I hope this helps you, and feel free to contact me or post any concerns.
Ginger

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