Listening to Pat Robertson about Alzheimer’s Disease and divorce shows to me how hard this disease can work on a family.
Robertson is given a question from the ‘chat room’ about a man whose wife has Alzheimer’s and has decided that he needs companionship. His wife is so far gone in the disease she is no longer a good companion. The friend wonders what he is to say to this man because the friend feels uncomfortable.
Robertson responds, I think, from the gut. He knows others who have gone through this situation and the loss they feel of the person they once knew. He reflects upon the fact that the person with Alzheimer’s has lost so much of the ingredients of what made them personable.
While he does not condemn the husband for seeking companionship, nor does he justifies it. Considering Robertson’s conservative views, I thought he would rail against the man for committing adultery or not living up to the wedding vows. Instead, Robertson reflects that if this is what the man is doing – seeking ‘companionship’ outside of the marital relationship while the wife is battling an illness – perhaps he should divorce his wife.
Now some might take this as a cavalier attitude. But how many of us have heard of couples breaking up because of a life-threatening illness? Wives and husbands leave because they realize they cannot do the work or deal with the stress of a serious illness.
While working on another story about a cancer-support program I learned from the clinical director that women with cancer are seven times more likely to be divorced during the treatment period than men in the treatment period. In fact, they are planning new classes on teaching families survival skills this fall to work on that issue.
The same happens to families with children who have special needs. All of these things can stress a marriage and people will walk away. I remember reading a story about a semi-famous singer whose wife told him she couldn’t do ‘this’ when he got cancer. She left as he was going through treatment.
So what about Robertson’s opinion? Was he right or wrong? Or was he being pragmatic?
I think the last option is where Robertson was going with his answer. He tells the interviewer that if this is where the man is going – into a new relationship despite the mental and physical condition of his living wife – perhaps he should get a divorce. But Robertson is also careful to add that he is responsible for making sure his wife is cared for, that she has the care she needs for the rest of her life.
I wonder if Robertson gives that answer because he realizes the man is no longer invested in the marriage, in the relationship. This man has determined his wife is in a place where she can no longer be a suitable companion and he can not live without companionship. Robertson admits to the sadness of what the disease takes away from a couple but sees that this man is looking for a way out.
This is what remains in the back of my mind. Who would want to be the companion or future spouse of a person willing to leave their current wife/husband during the worst that life can hand you? What if something happens to that person? Will he/she leave when the going gets rough?
If you consider past behavior as being the only dictating force, you already know the answer. But, boy, would I like to be proven wrong.