Marriage can be a precarious place for women in their 40’s…

When a married woman reaches 40, and often older, her life begins to change. The children she longed to have are growing older, her education has begun to pay off as she has developed her own career. She is earning her own money and is contributing to the household income, often significantly. She has developed a broad and strong support network of other women and co-workers who she trusts, and who provide her with emotional support in addition to social outlets. She has matured. She has developed a “net” for herself. She has reached a different place in her life, emotionally.

The decent, loving, stable, nice man she met 15 or 20 years ago, now her husband, is a good father and provider, and yet she discovers that she does not need him in the same ways that she once did.  So why are so many women at this life stage finding themselves questioning their own feelings and asking themselves “Am I crazy for thinking about leaving?” He doesn’t drink heavily, he’s loyal, he is smart, he loves me, he doesn’t run around at night, and we get along. Slowly, her life which use to feel very fullfiling suddenly feels vanilla. When she speaks to her family and friends about her feelings she hears “What is wrong with vanilla?” or “are you crazy? he’s such a good guy and father you should feel lucky! I think there something is wrong with YOU!” So, she tells herself that she just can’t leave. She can’t justify it. And she can’t hurt him. Her feelings are suddenly not as important as these things in the face of logic. She tells herself that she really has no good reason to leave. She just can’t get out. Marriage is a commitment and it has its ups and downs right? And besides things can’t always be exciting that’s unrealistic. There are dips in all relationships. So she waits, hoping things might feel better. She may ask her husband to go to counseling but he’s not really doing anything wrong. It’s her own emerging feelings that are driving her ambivalence. She says to herself “If I can only hang in there another few years until the kids are done with high school”. The safety, consistency, and love, she once felt, the children they have together  shouldn’t it all be enough? These things once gave her great joy. Yet SHE has changed inside. Her emotional needs have changed, she has grown, she finds herself feeling lonely in the marriage. These are some conditions that often create a dangerous and vulnerable environment and for an affair to be set in motion. Women having affairs isn’t talked about much in social media, but it happens quite frequently. Women simply aren’t as comfortable revealing or owning such behavior.

Many of the reasons that woman marry when they are younger are fulfilled by their 40’s. By that time they are much more comfortable in their own skin and more emotionally mature. Later in life they can  provide for themselves, and the emotional needs they had in their 20’s have been realized. They have also become more comfortable and secure with themselves and the world. Emotionally, they have a built a network of friends and support, financially, they have begun to make their own money, martial sex has become flat as the emotional connectedness has diminished. Conversations have become dry and routine. It is often described to me as an ” unexplained emptiness” never felt before. The desire remains to have a partner yet she doesn’t NEED to be with anyone. She is filled with guilt, angst and confusion.

Of course all relationships go through ups and downs. Especially those that span a decade or more. The stress of raising children, financial changes, job changes, experiencing loss through death, and tragedy that is just life. Couples therapy can significantly help with recapturing the intimacy and connectedness lost over time. It cannot however, change an individual’s  sense of who they have become or how they feel. If one person in the marriage is not “all in”, no matter how wonderful their husband or wife may be, it might be time to change direction. Feelings are feelings, needs change, what you have to offer now may not necessarily be enough 15 years from now for your spouse.  Women are emotionally dynamic and organic creatures. Sometimes it may be about the relationship. Sometimes though it may just be about us. 

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10 thoughts on “Marriage can be a precarious place for women in their 40’s…”

  1. But you miss so much if you throw in the towel! There is growing old together, rekindled flames, second honeymoons! I hate to see women walk away when they are in their 40’s. Feelings, emotions, these things are fleeting. What about commitment, love, loyalty? What about her husband? Are they just their to provide support for raising kids and then we offload them once they’ve served their usefulness?

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    1. I know. I don’t ever suggest throwing in the towel. It seems tho that many women feel that who they have become is so vastly different from who they were. Women I think bloom emotionally as individuals after they have done the kids, house, & marriage thing. Unlike men who can embrace their roles, after motherhood & taking care of others for so long and putting their needs aside, they seem to be wanting more for themselves as individuals. Thank you for your comment.

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      1. How can we help women bloom emotionally and start focusing on themselves after the kids have grown? It seems like there must be some things that could fill that empty feeling she may have. And does that feeling have anything to do with her spouse at all? Should the focus not be on her and her needs, rather then him being the problem?

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      2. Good question. Lots of woman “out grow” the relationship and their partner emotionally. Moreover they feel the man they once loved either can’t meet their emotional needs anymore, or he doesn’t have the capacity emotionally to give her what she requires. It has little to do with who is is. It’s who he is not and who she has become. They simply feel they want someone else who offers different things they cannot get from him. It’s no ones fault. As the saying goes sometimes “love is just not enough”.

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  2. This is a sad and misguided article, in my opinion. It elevates “needs” and “feelings” to the narcissistic extreme, and it ignores the stark existential fact that sometimes you just have to deal with your emptiness and not blame it on your external circumstances. (Like your partner, your environment, your changing roles.) So, it’s okay to dump your long-time partner, who has been loyal, supportive and faithful to you until now,(cause you don’t “need” him anymore) and then sneak around and find some other dude who’ll light your fire again? And then what? Please, grow up!

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    1. I’m certainly not saying it’s right or wrong. The reason I chose to write on this is because in my large practice in the Washington, DC area I have seen a serge of this voiced by many many professional women. As I mentioned, these are feelings
      that long time married women have discussed with me over the past several years. Thank you for your comment.

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  3. I get it. I was in this situation with x-husband. It was not about him persay it was about my not feeling it was the right relationship for me any longer. I needed more emotional connectedness that he could give me as I evolved into a different woman with changing needs. While I understand it’s not seemingly acceptable by the above reader relationships are a choice. I choose happiness.

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  4. Interesting article and comments. I had very similar feelings and separated from my husband at age 43. For the next seven years we lived separately; I bought my own house and was completely self-supporting. We continued to see each other regularly, spend holidays together, etc., but I had space to explore all kinds of new things. During this time I also realized I needed some deeper work, and spent a few years in analysis, which for me was life-changing. He too changed – became much more emotionally available, sensitive, etc. Eventually we moved to another state together and now have a solid, respectful and loving marriage. I’m so glad we did not throw away what has turned out to be a strong partnership. It took both of us facing some really hard times together and individually for us to get here, but it was worth it. I’m now 57 and very happy.

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    1. I love your story Susan. It’s always so great to hear how couples make their own rules in relationships meaning, they go outside the box and do “what works” for them. I’m so happy for you and your husband. Taking the time to do inner work takes a lot of courage and fortitude and inevitably it pays off in a love story such as yours. Thank you so much for your comments.

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