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Is it okay to cheat on a spouse that has Alzheimer's?

  1. Sep 16, 2011 #1


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    It's not like they'd remember it even if you got caught.

    Or, more seriously, what sort of obligation do you have to a spouse that's so far gone they don't even remember who you are anymore? In other words, was it evil of Michael Schiavo to be living with his girlfriend for years while his wife, Terri Schiavo, was brain-dead, but physically alive, in the hospital?

    Pat Robertson, of all people, gave an interesting answer to that question. Pat Robertson on divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's. In this case, Robertson is against adultery (hence the divorce), but does seem to understand what a person goes through when their spouse is mentally gone, but still physically alive.

    If you ever get the chance, which probably isn't likely given the fate of many independent short films, watch "Comfortable Distance". It's about an elderly, but healthy, woman who's caring for a husband that's dying or incapacitated (they're not very specific as to what his problem is) who has a single, healthy, elderly man start hitting on her. She rejects his advances, since she's a married woman, but then they show her returning to care for her husband, who is virtually a vegetable. Boomer Tibbs does an incredible job portraying the husband. You really feel like taking care of this guy would be a living hell. He's just a disgusting, drooling basket case that makes you feel like you'd toss this guy in the dumpster and be done with him before you'd spend even a day taking care of him. And, almost predictably, the scene after her taking care of the husband is her deciding she wants to accept the advances of the guy that's been hitting on her.

    I think it would be an incredibly hard situation. I divorced an alcoholic wife that gave me more than enough reasons to leave her and I still felt like I was taking the last lifeboat off a sinking ship and telling her she'd just have to swim for it - and knowing she'd never make it. I don't know how I'd deal with a spouse that was incapacitated through no fault of their own.

    And I wonder if my mother will wind up in that situation as my dad slowly fades further and further away because of his Parkinson's disease. She keeps having to give up more and more activities because she's simply afraid to leave him alone for extended periods of time. It's times like these that having all of us kids scattered across the world and not a single one living even in the same state bothers me.
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  3. Sep 16, 2011 #2
    I don't have the heart to do it...

    I mean if you have Alzhemier's, do you want your wife to cheat on you?

    Do not do to other as you do not want them unto you.
  4. Sep 16, 2011 #3


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    Will divorcing this person mean financial hardship for you if they own the money in the relationship?

    On the flip side, will divorcing them cut them off from medical help and standard of living? Would you want them to dump you if the situation were reversed? What if you have kids? What will your abandonment of their mother/father that did no wrong do to them and other close family? Are you setting yourself up to be dumped when your time comes?

    I don't believe in marriage vows of "until you become inconvenient", or I find someone hotter. I'm alone and I'm not looking for anyone. People don't need replacements, IMO.

    There are a lot of things to consider.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2011
  5. Sep 17, 2011 #4


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    Before no-fault divorce became common, insanity (or some other permanent mental incapacitation that required permanent institutionalization) was grounds for divorce in most states. The caveat was the person still had to provide financially for the incapacitated spouse even after divorce. In other words, the divorce just freed the person to remarry - it didn't free them of their financial obligation (which was essentially what Pat Robertson was suggesting as the most realistic solution).

    The dark side of that was that the divorcing spouse didn't have to put the incapacitated spouse in the most expensive institution available. (Nor did they have to put a child with mental problems/deficiencies impossible to cope with in the home in the most expensive institution available.)
  6. Sep 17, 2011 #5


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    By this same line of logic, is it okay to insult or demean a severely retarded child? They also won't remember or be offended or hurt in any way.

    I think it is not OK, and IMO in both cases it has nothing to do with the sick person, it is about the integrity of the well person.

    Btw, I have no problem with divorcing an addict or an abuser or a cheater. But even there, the thing to do is secure the divorce first, not because the spouse deserves or needs it but for your own integrity.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2011
  7. Sep 17, 2011 #6
    That's an easy question for me to answer because I answered it when I got married. I made a vow that said "... in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

    So for the case of Alzheimer's; that's an easy one for me. Also, I watched my Grandfather take care of my Grandmother as she degenerated with Alzheimer's. I know what is involved, and I would have been very disappointed had he cheated on my Grandmother.

    The case of brain-death is also easy for me. I consider brain-death to be "death", and both my wife and I have decided to not let the other linger on if brain-death has occurred. If any law prevented this course of action, I would still consider my wife to be dead, and would expect her to feel the same. I doubt I would want to see someone else for a long long time, but I would not consider it wrong to move on.
  8. Sep 17, 2011 #7


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    Judge not...

    We can each answer this for our own selves. We really have no business presuming how someone else may need to comport themselves to be able to live their life.
  9. Sep 18, 2011 #8
    Honestly, if I had Alzheimer's, I would want my wife to do whatever makes her happy. I wouldn't expect loyalty at that point. I don't think any action is morally justifiable on the basis of "they wouldn't know", but it's justifiable based on human needs.
  10. Sep 18, 2011 #9
    Have you asked her?
  11. Sep 18, 2011 #10
    I don't think human need would be valid moral justification. It might be a basis to forgive weakness, but that's it. Life sometimes asks very difficult things from us, and when there is no other option, we get through it somehow. So, just because there is a form of "relief" available in this case, doesn't mean it should be taken.

    However, what would make it justifiable on a moral level is if you and your wife discuss it beforehand, discuss the parameters that define the point at which a person is "no longer here", and basically give each other permission (i.e. verbally modify your marriage contract).

    As Phrak pointed out, "Have you asked her?" reveals the problem. I would not be able to ask my wife for permission. How do I tell her that if she gets that sick, I will be dating another women, and all of my wife's friends an family might be aware that I'm sneaking away from my duty to take care of her to get a little you-know-what on the side. Honestly, I would not even want to do that, never mind plan for it.

    Love is all about putting another person's human need above your own, and marriage is a pre-commitment to continue loving for life, not only when things are good, but also when they are very bad. But, I grant you, this situation is very very difficult, and not all people will have the strength to get through it.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2011
  12. Sep 18, 2011 #11


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    seems to me that it doesn't matter what the rest of that sentence is. If you think it's cheating then it is and if you do it then you're a cheater and only you can decide if you're OK with that.
  13. Sep 18, 2011 #12

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    What he said.

    Until you have experienced up close and personal just how difficult it is dealing with a family member who suffers some sort of permanent dementia, you just do not know how hard it is. My father now has the mind of a third grader or so. At least there is still a remnant of who he once was that is still around inside that body. My mother is there for him almost every day. We convinced her to take at least one day a week off. Every day was just too trying on her. I can't imagine how much hard it would be for someone who has to deal day in, day out with a spouse who has the mind of a newborn or less.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2011
  14. Sep 18, 2011 #13


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    I'm not married. But I do know personally of three situations where someone is dealing with an aging person going downhill either slowly or quickly, whether it be their parents or their spouse. But, like in DH's situation, it seems to me that it would be very important not to have a person's entire life collapse around just caring for their spouse. I think cheating on their spouse would certainly bother me, but they do need to make sure they have some sort of social release.

    Yes, that creates lots of situations to deal with. Here's the trailer from the movie, "Comfortable Distance", that I was talking about and pretty much captures the essence of the film.

  15. Sep 18, 2011 #14


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    I agree. Walk a mile in someone's moccasins before you presume to pass judgement.
  16. Sep 18, 2011 #15
    So, after you walk that mile, should you then pass judgement? Did my Grandfather, who took care of my Grandmother, have the right to judge anyone else that was not as strong and devoted as he was? If he has that right, why can't I then make a judgement by comparing to him as the example of what can be done, and how his perspective is transferable to me? This doesn't seem to hold up to close scrutiny. I think the issue of the appropriateness of judging particular people in particular circumstances is a separate question entirely, and not dependent on whether we've walked a mile down a particular road.

    If making a judgement is warranted in a particular case, I don't think one necessarily needs to make the walk and experience all things to make that judgement. You can watch someone else make the walk, and you can extrapolate from similar walks that you have experienced. You then can apply the basic ethical code you hold close to you. There is no one standard, but often the basic tenants we all agree with are sufficient to make a logical deduction.

    Also, what's wrong with making judgements anyway, as long as you are not acting unreasonably based on those judgements. We all have the right to judge and hold opinions. If Mrs. Reagan had started dating a man while President Reagan was in his final days, I would definitely have an opinion about this and make a judgement about the morality of her actions.

    Anyway, we are not judging any particular individual here. We are considering an ethical question. We can ask the question and give an answer without judging anyone. We all know that humans are not perfect and don't always live up to their ideals. That's where forgiveness comes into play. Sometimes we have to forgive others, or even ourselves, for moments of weakness and imperfection. Forgiveness is an act of judgement also.
  17. Sep 19, 2011 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Human weakness and imperfection, or human nature and basic needs? Why should a person be sentenced to prison when their spouse is no longer the person they married; or in the worst cases, barely a person at all? Why does anyone need forgiveness for not abandoning their life and emotionally dying with their spouse, all for the whims of nature? Also, there are two issues here. One is that of supporting and caring for the spouse, and the other is that of being faithful. I don't see how one could completely abandon someone they love. However, if I love my wife and I'm the one losing my mind, I wouldn't want her to stop living for my sake. Hopefully I wouldn't be tossed to the wolves, but I wouldn't expect or want her to emotionally die while I die physically. I think it would be wrong and selfish to ask as much.
  18. Sep 19, 2011 #17

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    I'm not the person my wife married 27 years ago. I'm better in some ways, worse in others, and just different in yet others. Who is the same after an extended length of marriage? Certainly that one's spouse is not the same person is not justification for a divorce, or foolin' around.

    Now that's something completely different, and this is the heart of the problem. A person who has suffered traumatic brain damage may plateau in recovery at some permanently reduced capacity. But now at least friends and family know what they are in for for the long haul. Alzheimer's is just plain nasty. It is a steady decline to non-being. There is no plateau. There is just a perpetual cliff.

    It's not whims of nature. The whims of nature would have killed many of the people now suffering from Alzheimer's long before they reached their state of near non-being. This is a human-induced problem. The medical field knows how to keep us alive for a long time after our nominal age of death. This is in general a very good thing. It does have its downsides though, the increase in Alzheimer's being one. We as a society have yet to come to grips with the downsides of modern medicine.
  19. Sep 19, 2011 #18
    Of course you wouldn't want her to emotionally die, but you did ask her to risk that possiblity when you asked her to marry you, and she agreed when she said, "I do". Or, perhaps you have already talked to her and given her the freedom to have another relationship if you keep living long after your mind has degenerated beyond a certain point. If so, she does not face the same level of ethical issues, if that situation arises. Has she given you the same consideration if the situation is reversed, or does she hold you to your original vows? (answer to yourself not publicly)

    The discussion needs to happen verbally at some point in order to change the nature of the ethical question being asked. This is not a legal quesiton at all, it's a basic ethical question about staying true to you word and to your values.
  20. Sep 26, 2011 #19
    One of the main reasons people get married, is to have someone next to them, and not pass through life all alone. The idea that no matter what comes next, she/he will be next to you is comforting, in an otherwise useless life. If the person counting on you, while he's going through hell , and you're cheating on him/her, than I don't consider you a person even worthy of being considered a decent human being.
    The answer, in my case is, no , I would clearly NOT do this to her.
  21. Oct 4, 2011 #20
    This thread is so depressing it crosses into being funny. By the time I got to "The idea that no matter what comes next, she/he will be next to you is comforting, in an otherwise useless life." I was cracking up.
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