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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships 58    

                                 February 2007

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….

Our sex life is the problem

Dear Maggi:


My wife of 39 years is a wonderful woman to have in my life, but lately has become distant and cold. We are in our early sixties and physically still pretty healthy. We have brought up three children, fairly well I think, as they seem happy and are in work they enjoy. Two of them are married and have families.


My wife didn’t work when our kids were small, but eventually went to college to train as a hairdresser. She really enjoys her job. She is the main gardener and decorator in the family, is an excellent cook and a really good friend and neighbour to lots of people nearby. She has always made the home a good place to be and looked after all of us with tolerance and affection.


Our sex life seems to be the problem. In the last 18 months she seems to have lost interest in sex – and me. I don’t think I am a bad husband or a bad lover and I don’t understand why this is happening. She is much less active and energetic than she used to be and we don’t laugh as much. I miss all of that.


She finally said she was going to the doctor to get “an overhaul” as she put it and came back saying she has medication for depression. Up till now she hasn’t wanted to talk about there being anything troubling her. She just says it will be OK but still won’t discuss what might be the trouble.


Is it me? Has she gone off me? I’m really worried, I couldn’t bear it if our marriage went wrong after all this time. What can I do to help her?



Maggi replies:


Let’s just think about what your wife has been doing since she was 20 or so. After marrying, there was little time for you to settle into being just a couple. She had three children quite early in life, making that her first career. She did work - and what a wonderful job she made of it! She cared for the children, cooked delicious meals to nourish you all, decorated the house, tended the garden and enjoyed a good sex life with you. To top it off, she found time to be a good friend to others and was always ready to help neighbours.


When the children became independent, she went to college and qualified as a hairdresser. She must have been in her late 30s by then? A new career started, yet she maintained much of the old one, helping the kids get onto their adult feet and leave home, cooking all the meals, weeding the garden, digging the veg patch, repainting the stair-well and keeping her friendships going.


It sounds like you have been one lucky man. Your wife has cared for everyone but now desperately needs some nurturing herself. She’s running on empty and it’s time you pampered her more, cared for her more. You seem to be a loving and appreciative man. Now is the time to crank up those valuable qualities, allowing her to slow down a little and regain a sense of where she is in her life.


As a full-on, conscientious mum, she will have felt keenly the loss of the children as they left home. She might not have shown it at the time, but it is a painful stage for many mothers and a time when they need to re-arrange life to fill the gap. Perhaps she became busier in other areas of her life to do this.

 
I suspect her depression is about much more than sex. It will be a symptom, along with other things. She is on her feet all day at work. Make sure she rests when she gets home because I imagine she is probably post-menopausal by now, or almost there.

 
After the menopause, a woman’s body suffers more from changes that might have been dormant. The impact of childbirth on the complex abdominal muscles, the back and legs, can remain unnoticed in a healthy active woman for years. Hormonal change in menopause means that muscles soften and it becomes harder to maintain their tone. Tiredness is more likely and, with someone who has been so active, that is hard to accept.

 
Hormonal change and adjusting to a different life stage can also account for a menopausal woman’s waning interest, often temporary, in sex,
and might well contribute to her feeling depressed. Your wife is used to feeling in control of her world and doing things well. She could be thinking, “I just can’t cope any more; I’m becoming useless at everything; even sex feels like too much effort.”
 

Beneath that could be a fear that you will no longer feel satisfied by her company.

 

  • Make it clear that you love her and want your life together to grow.

  • Make time to listen and offer her time talk about how she sees your relationship growing now there are just the two of you.

  • What does she really want to be doing?

  • Can she see an advantage to slowing down a little?

  • Say how you feel about her achievements.

  • Offer to share more of the household tasks.

  • Think about what you want in this new stage of your life together and discuss them.

Your wife will need gentle coaxing to slow down a bit and to see taking a rest as a well-earned reward, not defeat. Let her know that you love her and that her health and happiness, not sex, is the most important thing to you. Offer to forego making love until you feel she is feeling brighter and rested and is taking an interest in you. But talk regularly with her and plan for your joint future enjoyment and fulfilment. And always be ready to listen.

 


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


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