My husband and I have been married for 19 years. Ten years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia, and more recently Parkinson's disease. Other health issues include heart failure and psychosis. I became a nurse to take care of him, and I gladly and willingly do so everyday. However, I have lost my intimate partner and friend. He is not the same man I married, and have been alone physically and mentally for 10 years.
I have met another man who has been my friend for years. We have strong feelings for each other, though I refuse to leave my husband, as there is no one else to take care of him. If I were to have a relationship with this man, emotional and/or physical, will I be condemned by God as an adulteress?
My heart breaks at the pain and anguish you have experienced on a daily basis for such a long time. It is truly a test of character, of love and commitment, and of inner strength. It reminds one of the old (secular) marriage vow to "honor and cherish as long as we both shall live." It is telling that, in its modern incarnation, there are some who substitute "as long as we both shall love." That is not our ethic.
Jewish law is clear that a marriage ends only through the death of one party or divorce; there is no intermediate stage of married but not married. Certainly, one should seek emotional solace and support from friends and family, and a network of loved ones is critical to your own emotional well-being. But such a relationship with a man can lead to compromising situations and depreciate the exclusivity of your marital commitment.
The ordeal you are experiencing is likely the greatest moral test of your life, and refraining from sin during such trials ultimately defines our essence. While I cannot presume to speak for the Almighty - whose mercy is infinite and Whose judgment accounts for the stresses of exigent circumstances - His law, that guides our lives in good times and bad times, is a beacon of hope and solace especially in times of despair.
Your love and concern for your husband will pay dividends in both this world and the next. I pray that Hashem envelope you in His canopy of peace and consolation soon.
My husband and I have been married for 19 years. Ten years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia, and more recently Parkinson's disease. Other health issues include heart failure and psychosis. I became a nurse to take care of him, and I gladly and willingly do so everyday. However, I have lost my intimate partner and friend. He is not the same man I married, and have been alone physically and mentally for 10 years. I have met another man who has been my friend for years. We have strong feelings for each other, though I refuse to leave my husband, as there is no one else to take care of him. If I were to have a relationship with this man, emotional and/or physical, will I be condemned by God as an adulteress?
First, and foremost, my heart goes out to both you and your husband for the incredibly difficult circumstances in which you find yourselves. From a legal-ethical perspective this is a very complicated situation, as you already appreciate in ways I will never understand. From a Jewish values point of view I would like to outline explicitly what I think are the ethical issues. Ethically, you made a commitment to your husband when you married him and you are to be praised and honored for your dedication to that commitment, something you would pledge to carry on even if you were to continue moving forward with a relationship with this other man. Clearly, also, as a human being, you should have the ability to be happy, to feel loved and to be engaged in a fulfilling intimate relationship. On the other hand, you are, in fact, married, which carries its own ethical obligations of exclusivity when it comes to such intimacy. Therein lies the ostensible conflict between competing values.
To answer your question on a practical level though, we turn to theology and halakha (Jewish law). Theologically I would like to state that no human being can speak for God in such a direct way about a particular situation. Therefore, I would never say to someone in your situation that you would be “condemned by God”. I have no authority, nor do I want such authority, to make such a judgment. In terms of Jewish law, it is clear that the jumping off point for the discussion would be that you are married and therefore must honor the obligations of marriage indefinitely. Such obligations are not abborgated by illness. Yet, there might be a legal solution that would attempt to honor both competing values, as difficult as such an action may seem -- divorce (or another form of divorce called hafka’at kiddushin - annulment of the marriage). How this could be done depends on whether your husband currently has any moments of lucidity. If he does, perhaps you (or someone else) could try to get him to express agreement to giving you a Get (a Jewish divorce). Once he expresses such a desire, you could become officially divorced, legally and ethically freeing you to be in a relationship with someone else, even while you continue to care for your husband and honor your love and commitment for him in doing so. If he no longer has moments of lucidity, legally, this becomes even more difficult as he cannot make a free-will decision. In this case one would have to submit your case to a Beit Din – a rabbinic court – for a legal annulment based on the idea that your husband, as he was, is no longer “present”. There is a chance, but no guarantee, that a Beit Din would apply the law that allows for such an annulment when a husband has been physically missing, to such a case as this.
I wish you strength and blessing as you continue to balance the many ethical considerations and the strong emotions that you are dealing with at this time. Your concern for your husband’s care is admirable and your concern for doing the right thing and honoring Jewish law is commendable. I hope you find resolution.
During my time as a respondent for Jewish Values Online, I have had the opportunity and privilege to respond to a number of queries. I have yet to encounter a question that deserves a more lengthy interaction than this one, albeit the attenuated format makes that impossible. So I urge you please to speak with a trusted spiritual counselor, even if any of the responses you may receive seem (temporarily) to quiet the pain of your situation. That said, a few reflections follow.
One cannot but be moved by the circumstances you describe and by your awesome devotion to a very and variously afflicted husband. The price of such sacrifice must be substantial, and while I would understand were you to pursue a relationship with the "other man," understanding is not the equivalent of approval. Further, I wonder if your posing the question suggests that a real challenge isn't divine judgment as it may be your own conscience.
Thus far and despite horrific circumstances, you have honored the commitment/covenant of marriage. Indeed, your example of devotion is – no less a word fits – inspiring. Covenant means there are behaviors I do even though I may prefer not to and behaviors I don't do even as I might want to. In short were I Ruler of the Universe, I would not condemn you. I would praise and praise even more if you refrain from physical intimacy with another. Further, I would "prescribe" some respite care. You need, have earned and are entitled to time off. Please check with a synagogue and/or social service agency to secure such assistance.
Finally, friendship with another man, companionship with others, even thoughts of physical intimacy are not equal to adultery. If you recall Jimmy Carter's infamous Playboy interview ("I have committed adultery many times in my heart."), Judaism does not view thoughts as equal to behavior. But your behavior is a model of holiness, and, without any willingness or ability to pass judgment, I encourage you to persevere.
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