There is no statute of limitations regarding hurt feelings or wounded trust. The bad news is that the pain of unfinished business can continue for years; the good news is that it’s never too late to heal old wounds, even if they happened long ago.
Rose was 69 and Harry was 78 when he suffered a serious heart attack. For nearly two years, Rose devoted herself to Harry’s recovery. They both agreed that her devoted care literally saved his life. However, in the process of being Harry’s caretaker, Rose had overextended herself and was suffering from “compassion fatigue.” Shortly after Harry’s recovery, Rose fell into ill health and became depressed. She and Harry had been partners in a successful business, and now they were facing the possibility of losing it due to their deteriorating health. Not yet ready to transition into retirement, they both kept struggling to save the business, despite Rose’s unhappiness, exhaustion, and growing resentment.
Harry welcomed the opportunity to reciprocate Rose’s devotion, and he threw himself into caring for her as his strength slowly returned. Things, however, did not go according to plan. Rose didn’t trust the depth of Harry’s feelings for her. She feared that if she really needed him, he wouldn’t be there for her. As a result, Harry often felt that in Rose’s eyes he couldn’t do anything right, and he was frustrated that his efforts didn’t succeed in making her happy. Rose acknowledged that they had never created a foundation of deep intimacy in their marriage, and she feared it was too late.
Together, they decided to seek couples counseling. Harry learned to be more responsive to Rose and more patient with himself. Rather than argue with her, which had fueled a power struggle, he committed himself to demonstrating his love and gratitude, regardless of how it might be received. As a way of showing his love, Harry came every week to either couple or individual therapy sessions. He also shopped, cooked, and told Rose that he loved her each day. He searched for prospective buyers for their business, took her to Hawaii, listened patiently to her distress, and became less reactive to her outbursts and criticisms. He even cooked chicken soup for the first time in his life!
Harry and Rose had not had an active sex life for six years. His snoring and tossing and turning had led them to sleep in separate rooms. They agreed to try a ritual of lying down beside each other in bed to be close before going to their separate rooms. Gradually, a feeling of kindness and gentleness came back into their marriage. Over the months, their intimacy grew. Rose eventually accepted Harry’s efforts and softened into her love for him. The months of focused attention to their relationship paid off with a sweetness and trust greater than anything they had previously known. In their sunset years, they developed the love they had always longed for.