Rebuilding Relationships

Most people, when asked why they chose their spouses, can point to a specific characteristic that made them fall in love. Maybe you liked his animal magnetism or her diplomatic way of handling disagreements, it doesn’t really matter–these characteristics were only the lead in to a relationship that has endured. What happens, though, when a spouse is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and they no longer resemble the person with whom we fell in love? How do we remain in a relationship with someone who has become, sad to say, an unpleasant stranger?

You may have married someone witty, charming, sexy, and a great conversationalist, but now he’s more like a spoiled child with ADHD, who whines and bickers at every turn. Your once capable spouse has turned into a needy dependent that has to have everything spelled out for him. He no longer supports your every achievement with loving encouragement. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to register anything that happens outside of his own body. You still want a partnership, but he has somehow split off from you. He says hurtful things, often in front of strangers. It’s embarrassing.

No Turning Back

It’s time to face the facts: the relationship you once had has ended and there’s no turning back.

This is painful at first, and then you feel angry. The last attribute to arrive is acceptance. It’s like any other mourning process. The difference here is that you can’t move on–you’re still in the relationship. Still, acknowledgment of your situation can go a long way toward bringing emotional freedom–a kind of permission to end what has already been ended, at least de facto. It’s a way to keep your equilibrium. Next comes finding a way to rebuild the relationship, based on what you still have between the two of you and taking into account the difficulties that come with Alzheimer’s disease.

Cultivate Understanding

With gentle conversation, he will acknowledge the change–he knows he’s different and you both know the relationship has changed. He may think you have changed, even though you don’t think that’s true. He thinks you patronize him. Learn the mechanics of the other’s feelings.


Be respectful to each other. Try to change the behaviors that bother each other most. Discussion may take time and understanding even longer–but respect needs constant renewal.


Both of you need to hold on to whatever freedoms you still have. Let him do the dishes if he can. Get out for a night with friends, if possible.

Leave a Comment