Ask Ellie: Ailing parents affect couple’s love life

Dear Ellie: My husband of 24 years and I are losing intimacy, and it’s our parents’ fault.

We’re both mid-50s, and have one grown child whom we love dearly.

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My mother’s physical health and my husband’s father’s mental health are deteriorating at the same time.

My mother lives five hours’ drive from here. His father lives in our city. In both situations, we’re the only close relative able to oversee the care and comfort of our parent.

I’ve had to give up work I loved and travel every week to spend three days in my mom’s city, visiting, talking to doctors, arranging/checking her nursing and personal care. Sometimes she has a crisis and I stay longer.

My husband, who runs a successful business that pays our bills, visits his once-brilliant father every day. He also arranges and checks on caregivers for him in his long-term care home.

He works late after those visits, and comes home tired and depressed. When I’m not there, he just watches TV and goes to bed. He’s in a slump.

When I return home, I’m also exhausted from the caregiving and the drive. But I want to re-connect, share some warmth and comfort from each other, especially as we had a close, fun, and passionate marriage before all this happened.

How do we get back the desire that used to be present naturally? I’m afraid that our parents’ health troubles and needs are driving us apart.

Missing “Us”

Create a re-connect. You’re both capable of rushing to responsibilities to your parents — you, travelling miles away and he, dropping demanding work on a moment’s notice.

Getting back to a loving, comforting, reassuring life partner is a wonderful gift by comparison, far more restorative than mindless TV-binging.

Just do it. Take the initiative. No big speeches or “date-night-out” plans. Crawl in beside your husband and snuggle.

Instead of blaming your parents’ conditions for interfering with your relationship, recognize that this inevitable passage in their lives and yours has made you two need each other more than ever.

Once you re-set cuddling and sharing feelings, schedule just being together when possible (more than any social obligations).

You both need loving support for what you’re going through and the confidence that your marriage will also strengthen from that support.

Dear Ellie: We’re sisters whose parents emigrated here when she was six and I was one.

For years, we’ve alternately loved each other fiercely or been estranged.

When I entered kindergarten, she defended me with her teeth, fists and threats to anyone who tried to bother me. But from the dating years on, we’d either be extremely close or not talking to each other (instigated by her).

Now, both in mid-life, both divorced, she still has to always be right.

This is especially so, since I’ve proven to be steadier and more socially successful, despite her considering herself smarter.

When she gets angry about something, she shuts down. Zero communication. In earlier periods, I would’ve crawled back to re-establish contact.

I won’t/can’t do that anymore. Yet she’s my only family. What do you recommend?

The Other Sister

Understand that she needs you as much as you’ve ever needed her. Her purpose is to be leader of you two, always right, always setting the rules.

When you break them, she punishes you with silence.

Your healthiest response would be to not care beyond wishing her well.

Counselling would help you better handle the dramas she imposes whenever she feels she’s losing her power over you.

Feedback regarding the woman whose boyfriend claimed her breath smelled though her friends disagreed (Nov. 19):

Reader: “My mother complained for years that my breath smelled. Although I brushed, flossed, used mouthwash, saw the dentist regularly, nothing helped.

“At a meeting one night with dental people, I explained my problem. Someone told me to scrape my tongue with a soup spoon. Wow, that did the trick!

“Never had bad breath again. I now use a tongue scraper. I told a co-worker who had halitosis and she did the same thing and it worked.

“Tell the woman whose boyfriend was complaining, to try that.”

Ellie: While this letter-writer cleared the problem (proving that her mother was correct), it’s fascinating to me that a number of people have said they were falsely accused of bad breath by their mothers and/or lovers.

Readers: Send your thoughts on such false accusations (ellie@thestar.ca).

Ellie’s tip of the day

When circumstances impose pressure and fatigue, lean in together. Touch, warmth and love will revive desire.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca

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