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Relationships - February 2015

Feeling dull...

 

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

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



Feeling dull...

At a meeting recently I found myself deep in conversation with someone who was bemoaning the changes happening to her. She is in her late fifties and listed all the usual suspects: greying hair, weight gain, interrupted sleep, changing energy levels and associated weaker muscle tone, feeling totally unattractive, and as a result ,not as attracted to her husband as she was. The whole package.

Yet there is much we can do to feel better about the inevitable changes that age brings. More of that soon.

She went on to speak of her fear of losing her husband's love. He has always been popular with, and charming to her friends and their neighbours, and although he has been a loving and considerate partner for many years, is now much less interested in her physically than he was. This was possibly the most worrying thing for her. There was always a sense of pride at having been happily married to the same man for so long and at having that acknowledged and admired by friends. All of this was building up into something bigger than it need be due to her inability to take this part of her problem to one of her 'admiring' friends.

Back to the things we can do to feel better. For this person there are several categories of remedies. For the problem with her husband she will need to find a way of talking with him and explaining how she if feeling. But to do that while she is feeling so pessimistic about her self will be hard. She needs to feel more confident that she is feeling and looking good again. This is possible no matter what age we are. Negotiating from the position of feeling drab or boring or uninteresting will not provide her with enough confidence and strength to explain and to ask for what she wants.

So, tackle the energy levels, sleep and appearance first. The fastest way to get a boost is to have a good hair cut or re-style and, if wanted, have some colour put into the grey. Having fine lowlights added by a good colourist is very effective and subtle. They can be increased gradually and few people will notice. Once their hair looks different most women feel better too. Then she can tackle her sleep difficulties.

It is important to always check this with your doctor to ensure there is no clinical reason for sleep disturbance. Almost every menopausal and post-menopausal woman will have trouble sleeping at some time. The balance of hormones undergoes a series of changes as our bodies change and we become susceptible to excesses of some hormones or lower levels of others, which will disturb our ability to sleep deeply or long enough to feel refreshed. A vicious circle sets in: a feeling of tiredness blocking our enthusiasm for exercise and activity, we cut out some or all of our exercise and 'rest' more, we then tend have less oxygen in our bloodstream and become lethargic so put on weight, and as our bodies have not benefitted from stimulation we won't feel the need for deeper more restorative sleep. Somehow, a way has to be found to break that cycle.

Get a dog, buy or borrow a bicycle, walk more, swim regularly, use stairs instead of lifts where possible, practice yoga, Tai Chi or join a gym. Whatever suits you, do it. It will burn more calories, give you more oxygen and therefore energy, clarify your skin and make you feel much better about your appearance and your situation.

More tricky are the feelings of unattractiveness. Again, hormones could be getting in the way here. Mention it to you doctor if you have lost your desire for sex, or find it less comfortable or rewarding than it was. Hormone rebalancing can have marked positive effects if that is the problem. Good herbal supplements are excellent if taken sensibly. These can stimulate the body's natural production of hormones, rather than replace them using prescription drugs, but make sure you get good advice before using them, and say if you are taking prescription medications for any other conditions you have. By this time her own feelings of being attracted to her husband might well be returning. There are plenty of personal lubricants available now, on the shelves of chemists and supermarkets, which work wonders if intercourse is uncomfortable due to dryness...and can be fun to use (!). As for the 'rewarding' part of sex, that is bound up in conversation with your partner.

It can be disheartening to have the sinking feeling first thing in the morning when, after had insufficient sleep, the 'person' in the mirror looks out at her. She doesn't want to be that person reflected, so tackling negative feelings gradually, as mentioned, could slowly help her to feel she is in control and able to face a slightly different way of life. It might not be easy to achieve some of this, given that there are young adult children still at home, with all the difficult 'accommodations' that can entail, but bit by bit is the trick.

I hope she has, by now, taken pictures of her favourite hairdo to the salon and has a new look she likes. I hope she has bought some herbal tea to have last thing at night and is sleeping better. She might even have had a check-up at the surgery to make sure her general health is good and to monitor her hormone levels.

Now, with increased energy and feeling more confident in the way she looks and feels, it is time to talk to her 'popular and charming' man...alone of course. It is vital that her husband is aware of her feelings. If he is half the man he sounds he will want to help her to feel good about this new stage of life they are both entering. With the children now young adults, they are free to have nights out or weekends away...or nights in when the kids are out! She needs to quietly explain to him how much she needs him, how she feels she has changed, physically and emotionally. It would assist his understanding if she can tell him how he can help, e.g. what changes she would like to make and what might stay the same. She needs to ask what has changed for him too, and be prepared to support his changes.

A couple is a team. To make things better they need to work together. Nothing about what my acquaintance said was a criticism of her husband and when she talks to him she must make that very clear. There might be a series of conversations as things change, or different ways of doing things are tried out. Some changes might not fit. This is not a failure for either of them; it is a way of moving forward together and seeing what works for them and, just as importantly, what doesn't, so they can find increased pleasure in each other's company.

A book which I highly recommend is:

The Relate Guide to Loving in Later Life by Marj Thorburn and Suzy Powling

Excellent sources of herbal supplements are:

Nutricentre. Plenty of variety and advice. LaterLife members are offered discounts

Higher Nature are very high quality, helpful and informative and have a super-fast, reliable delivery service.


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


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