FYI Daily

Are "Well-Spouse Affairs" Different From Others?

Last updated: Jun 08, 2012

Psalm 34:18 (Clouded Heart)

Would you? Could you? Should you? Long-term caregiving situations sometimes cause spouses to stray into extramarital relationships, reports Next Avenue. Known as "well-spouse affairs," they're said to be more prevalent than many people might imagine, even among devoted mates.

"This is a very special set of circumstances," says New York City psychotherapist Michael Batshaw. "People who would never have an affair might have one in this situation because what often pulls people back from the affair is the hope that things will change. But this is a situation where your needs are not going to get met. Period."

How many caregivers do this? Nobody tracks such numbers. As Next Avenue says, "who's going to fess up [to a pollster] to pulling a John Edwards or a Newt Gingrich, tumbling in the sheets with someone else while his or her spouse is seriously ill or dying?" Lawrence Bocchiere III, president of the Well Spouse Association, estimates that about 5 to 6 percent of its members are involved in extramarital relationships.

The situation especially comes up in dementia caregiving, when a couple's sex life often changes and the disease can progress for many years. Many caregivers never stray, no matter what, of course.

But for other caregiving spouses, the Next Avenue story notes, the relationships are a way to cope with extreme stress. Others are lonely after intensive caregiving to a mate who is mentally or physically impaired. Some relationships sustain the well-spouse so that he or she can continue to care for a partner without feeling like a martyr, one expert says. These affairs aren't always about sex; some well-spouses crave companionship and emotional connection.

Some partners even discuss the desire for an outside relationship with the sick spouse, when the couple has that level of communication and understanding.

Others believe that "in sickness and in health" allows no exceptions.

Should you? Could you? Would you?

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