Too old to start over?


My husband and I are in our 60s. We have been married for more than 20 years, and this is a second marriage for us both. Our children are grown and we had none together. Spelling it out, I am unhappy. My husband is bipolar, and after we got married he began to rage at me, saying really terrible things to me, insisting they were true, even though I knew they were not. Back then, I would cry and wonder where my sweet and fun husband went. Getting a bipolar diagnosis didn't mean much to him, but he took medications, and his psychiatrist has tried several combinations. It seems that nothing has really changed this pattern of instantaneous rage and I have felt emotionally abused. We have seen at least three counselors over the years.

We have alarming and real money problems because my husband mismanaged our finances. I so badly wanted a PARTNER, a companion. He tries to be these things, but seems not to know how. He does not follow through on promises. I have started to stand up for myself, to convince him I didn't do the bad thing he thinks I did, but I never get him to acknowledge his own part. The counselors all try to say for me to just ignore him, but I get so upset to hear him say abusive things to me. I am so drawn to trying to convince him I didn't do whatever he says I did.

Also, because of some of his other health issues, we cannot have sex. I realize this is not his fault, but still, I miss that terribly. Whenever we've tried to separate, even for a week or a month, we both cry and go on about how we cannot stand to split up. I feel unsafe when he tries to go, and he is just distraught. So we never really do it. I am scared of living alone, and we really don't have money to pull this off anyway.

I have my own history of depression but have been steady for many years now. But lately I've been having signs of returning depression which terrifies me. My husband has another side, the one the rest of the world sees. They see a kind and gentle man, funny and dedicated. My grandchildren love him.

I do not know what to do about my husband. I waver back and forth. I'm petrified to have very little money, and loneliness is like a death to me. My husband wants to stay with me, get me to stop talking about what he has done, and he wants us to "renew our vows." I could never do that -- I could not make such a vow again. Please help -- am I too old to start over?

– Indecisive senior, Western Mass

I want you to get your own therapist. Couples counseling is great, but you should be having an independent discussion about your own needs and priorities.

I also get the sense that you need more time with your community. You sound isolated with your husband – so much of your life is just you and him. Can you spend more time with family? Can you participate in activities that expose you to new friends -- and see old friends more often? Your life can't be just you and him and the occasional visit with a grandkid. You need real family support and a social life to give you some perspective.

Clearly these are problems that can't be diagnosed and solved in a few paragraphs. You require professional help and time to consider all of your options. But please know: You are not too old to start over, and you don't have to renew vows if you don't want to. And your family should be there to help, not just put a grandchild in your lap. Make sure that the people who know you best understand what's happening at home.

Readers? Any advice about how to move forward? What are her options? Should she try couples counseling again or does she need her own therapy? Help.

– Meredith