Ralph and I are back into a routine after our rocky summer and landed on another plateau of what is normal. The changes I noted over the last months have set don’t bother me so much. And there has been a positive development. Ralph now plays music not only in his therapy sessions but also once a week with a neighbor our age who has been teaching himself the harmonica. The neighbor and his wife are newcomers to Nola and have become what I never expected Ralph and I to have again—couple friends. While our two husbands play music together, we two wives share a glass of wine around the corner. Having witnessed Ralph get agitated at an unfortunate outing to a restaurant, the couple seem undaunted, particularly since we usually meet in our sun room where Ralph is much more at ease and therefor his most cognitively alert, charming self.
So Ralph is happier these days, as am I. So I take more time to ponder the larger issues. And what I find myself thinking about lately is trust. Trust in a marriage is always an issue. Trust as a caregiver spouse brings up another complexity altogether.
In our pre Alzheimer’s marriage, we had a lot of problems but trust was not high on the list. We never cheated on each sexually. Even when we hated each other, we used up too much emotional energy in our relationship to have any left over for others. Our general modus operandi was to argue, sometimes with alarming openness. Several friends whose marriages fell apart after seeming much calmer than ours have said maybe being so openly angry at time saves Ralph and me. Maybe? Ralph was nothing if not straight forward and vocal, sometimes loudly vocal, in his views, but I could be secretive, nursing grievances and fears I couldn’t bring myself to share. As we bickered our way toward making decisions together, I didn’t always trust his judgement and he often ignored mine. What I did trust in those days was Ralph’s competence. If he said he could fix the plumbing or make the business deal, I believed him.
Well now the parameters have changed.
Ralph really has no secrets—he says whatever pops into his head, loving or nasty—but he also has no judgement. I have had to teach myself not to trust him to do anything. I can’t ask him to chores because 1., he won’t remember that I asked and 2., if he does remember he’s likely to mix things up. His once amazing mechanical aptitude in shot, he can’t read directions, and he has no capacity to problem solve.
On the other hand, he trusts me completely, a trust I am not sure I deserve. He assumes I will do what is best for him. I try but trust is a burden. I make sure his daily needs are met, but sometimes I hide in another room when I know he’d like my company. Sometimes I say I am going to run an errand when I am actually having lunch with a friend, or even our daughter.
And I no longer discuss with him any issue of substance, for instance tax issues, business decisions, or whether we may need to move to a different living situation in the next few years. He has no idea that I have been looking into options and I have no plan to tell him until such a move in imminent. I know that closing to keep difficult problems from him is largely for his benefit and that discussing decisions would have no actual benefit. He has no capacity to think through or even follow and would only be upset. But I also feel a bit uncomfortable with power I suddenly can wield over his life.