Q. I’m a divorced woman in my 60s who is dating a divorced man, also in his 60s. I believe my situation is very unique. My husband and I separated after more than a decade of marriage and divorced after another decade of living separately, when I finally realized he was not coming back. I never stopped loving him, and he also claimed he loved me but couldn’t live with me. (We both hail from families of origin with dysfunctional marriages, and I suspect our mutual lack of healthy role models contributed to our significant problems.)
I also believed I could not make it on my own, so I became involved with someone else soon after the divorce was finalized. Three years later, my former husband passed away after a short illness, and I was completely devastated by his death. Almost 10 years have passed since then, and I still am heavily grieving. I’m still in the “new” relationship, but it has now become purely platonic, against the new partner’s wishes. I don’t really know why he has stayed with me, but I suppose I’m lucky that he has.
I have received extensive counseling about this, but I have not been able to resolve it. I don’t know why I have become stuck and don’t know how to move forward with my life, either with or without this person. He is completely devoted to me, and I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life. Do you have any advice for me?
CONFUSED ON CAPE
A. I’m thinking you need a different kind of therapy — something that can help you change your patterns of thinking. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) comes to mind. Have you ever tried it?
Let me preface this by reminding you/everyone that I’m not a mental health professional. I am someone who can get stuck in an anxious thought for a really long time, over and over, so I look into all kinds of treatment.
CBT can help people who feel like they’re on a hamster wheel. I have nothing against talk therapy (in fact, I love it), but sometimes the answer isn’t more discussion about the same problems. Please ask your doctor (or insurance people) about specialists. Read up on CBT and its strategies. From what I know, it gives people very specific tools to stop the cycle of negative thoughts.
As for your romantic relationship, I do think the two of you can try counseling — mainly to talk about separating, even temporarily. Your partner seems to be part of your grief story now. He’s a daily reminder of what you can’t have. Give him the chance to find love. Maybe you’ll discover it too.
It’s scary to be alone in your 60s, but you mention nothing about a job, friends, hobbies, or children. If you had a stronger social network, would you feel as inclined to stay with this man, out of fear and inertia? If he’s unhappy with the platonic situation, he will probably end things eventually. And then what? Get your head around why you’ve always thought you can’t make it on your own, and work on that.
Sounds to me like this relationship was always platonic, considering you essentially got together due to your fear about being alone, not out of your love for him. I think that fear is the key to why you are stuck. People who fear being alone tend to focus on how other people can make them happy. You decided a long time ago your ex-husband was the key to your happiness when in fact it should be yourself.
As Meredith says, individual and couples counseling, please. Also, ask your doctor; your “stuckness” may have a brain chemistry component. As the saying goes: “Some people look so long at the closed door, they fail to see all the open doors.”
The best advice of the week: “Give him the chance to find love.” Exactly what I thought when I read this letter.
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