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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships   

                        June 2010

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


IT COULD BE YOU...

Am I being too demanding of my new partner?

Dear Maggi,

I was widowed 5 years ago. Married for 30 years we had an amazing relationship and loved each other deeply. At my husband’s funeral a good friend summed us up, observing we were either trying to kill each other or making love to each other. It was a wonderful, volatile, emotional, loving time. I never doubted for one moment our love for each other, nor the freedom and support we gave each other. We did everything together. With the exception of my 2-3 menopausal years, and 18 months of my husband’s chemotherapy we made love almost daily. It was normal for us, as I assumed it was for most loving couples.

Knowing he was dying, we discussed the future. He told me not to stay on my own for too long, as he said, I’m not a loner. Yet for 3 years I had no interest in another relationship. I hated being alone but I was not prepared to compromise just to have company. I’d been so fortunate in my marriage. Out of the blue I met a wonderful man. Though he ticked none of the boxes I thought I wanted he made me laugh and brought joy back into my life. He was fun to be with, and I found myself falling in love all over again. He understood my relationship with my husband and was happy to talk about it. There is no jealousy.

He’d had a very emotional time during his divorce and a subsequent destructive relationship, leaving his confidence in women dented. Our first weekend away together was fantastic, we were like teenagers and couldn't keep our hands off each other. But over time that drive has diminished greatly.

We have been living together for 15months and love each other dearly. We have fun and life is good, apart from sex. My partner still works and hopes to retire next year. Sexually we are both morning people. I awake instantly but he needs time to wake up so there is seldom time for sex during the week. Weekends depend on whether or not he has work on the house planned. Even on holiday I’m lucky if we manage to make love once a week.

He finds it hard to discuss this. He hopes it will sort itself out, and that at our age these things happen. Is this right? Am I being too demanding? I love feeling special and needed. I believe Ian cares very much for me, but I fear he doesn't need me physically. I suspect I am being stupid and what I want is less possible in our sixties. But is there an underlying problem? What is the "norm"? How often do older people make love? I know I’ve been one of the lucky ones but am I clinging on to that memory? Is what I have now acceptable?

I hope to spend the rest of my life with Ian, even if that means an almost non-existent love life but if that is so I need to adjust instead of constantly worrying about it, hoping for change. Which probably means that unintentionally I’m putting pressure on him, creating the opposite effect.

 

Maggi Replies:

What a lot of questions you raise. And I’m glad that you do. I’ve printed most of your long email to leave them all in. These are questions common to many people as they enter their sixties. My immediate response is to reassure you and other readers that if the pattern of your life suits both you and your partner – and you do need to ask them directly about this – then that is your personal norm. No two couples are the same. Equally relevant is that no two partners will be the same. What might be disruptive for you is the inevitable temptation to compare what you had with your husband to what you have now with your partner.

You mention your need to be cosseted and needed. Perhaps one of the changes you could make is to think over your personal needs. Often our wish for constant comfort and reassurance is down to being less confident about our ‘loveability’ on any level other than sexual.

We all have the capability to give and receive love in many other ways; through caring and listening, through sharing our partners interests when appropriate and giving space for them to express themselves singularly when they wish. Even physically we can give and receive love without having sex every time. Touch and closeness is comforting and intimate and is an integral part of any loving relationship. More than anything it tells us we are the focus of our partner’s love, that they are interested, wanting to be close and feeling affectionate towards us - in a way that can be either sexual or not and therefore non-challenging for someone who might be feeling less aroused but just as loving.

Talking about sex can be extremely hard for some people. Men have such high expectations of themselves and desperately wish to please the woman they love. It is doubly difficult therefore when they know they aren’t wishing or able to have full sex as often as their partner. (The fact is many couples have this difference in levels of sexual desire throughout life - except in the hormonal rush of youth when most are ‘full on’). But it is so important to discuss and to listen to each other’s feelings and possible anxieties. Perhaps your partner is concerned about his libido but doesn’t know how to say so. For some men desire lessens as they approach their sixties. This could be due to normal physical changes or because the stresses of work are high and his energy level is strained by that. Any kind of worry is enough to disrupt libido. We worry over children, health, aging parents, work, lack of work or finances, as well as our primary relationship. Talking it through, no matter how small it might seem, is healthy and healing. It informs each person of the other’s situation and increases understanding and acceptance. When this feels too difficult to do at home consider counselling. Every Relate counsellor is trained to help couples talk about the most tricky of topics and are always happy to support couples who are not in crisis as they will be most ready to change their patterns together and be mutually supportive.

Physical change can happen so gradually we don’t notice until our partner mentions it. As we age our bodies do lose some of the power of youth and it can mean a man might be less able to achieve or maintain an erection. This is a huge blow to sexual confidence and can be distressing. But there are many ways in which this can be helped and talking frankly is the first step. It might be worth having a general check-up with the family doctor to see if there is a medical reason behind any changes. An enlarged prostate or an altered blood pressure can be noted – and usually treated effectively – and occasionally medication to aid erectile function can help confidence greatly. Take a look at the chapter ‘Maturing Together’ in The Relate Guide to Sex in Loving Relationships.

All of that said, your own attitude towards what is happening is the thing you have most control over. Consider how things have changed for you. After such a wonderfully satisfying marriage and a very sad loss your adjustment to being alone was careful and not rushed. But it is still hard not to compare the very loving relationship you have now to your memories of when you were with your husband. You need to try your hardest to let go of any expectation of re-creating it. Your partner loves you dearly. You feel lucky to have found him and know you want to spend your life with him. That is such good fortune. But in any new-ish relationship there are adjustments and discoveries to be made and the beauty of a good relationship is that it never stops. As we age and change there are new things to discover about ourselves and our partners, so always be ready to make your own adjustments as time passes. It is what keeps a relationship open, trusting and strong.

Litvinoff, Sarah: The Relate Guide to Sex in Loving Relationships.
Vermillion

 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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