Why am I, at the age of 44, thinking of doing something that until now was unthinkable?

Question: Before we got married my husband and I had counselling with someone who basically warned us that there were 3 main areas in which couples run into trouble - sex, communication and money. We are still together after 20 years and sure enough, all of these have caused difficulties for us from time to time. None, however has been as much a problem as our careers. He is a medical practitioner and I work for a government department. My job is predictable - I start at 9 and finish at 5, the same 3 days every week, which is great because I like to plan my days ahead of time and know that everything will go according to plan. My husband's work is just the opposite, his hours are long and all over the place.

We have teenage boys, who are happy with their lives, and I have friends and a busy social life but this doesn't stop me from feeling lonely. I want to do more with my husband but how can I ask for this when, with the work he's in, it's just not possible? He loves his work and he enjoys working hard. So lately, I've been thinking that when the boys have all finished high school, we may be better off going our separate ways. The idea of being on my own and potentially feeling more lonely than I am now, frightens me, but at least I could do something about it. The problem is that when I have these thoughts, I also feel very guilty. Why am I, at the age of 44, thinking of doing something that until now was unthinkable?

Answer (1)
Thank you for your question, as you raise a situation perhaps shared by many readers. Despite a life that seems fulfilled and busy on the surface, with husband, children, friends and work, you still feel lonely. Why? Well, loneliness is often an internal feeling, and just "doing something" is unlikely to change it. Have you considered psychotherapy, which would help you to address why your inner world feels so bleak? It may help you to understand what is going on, before you consider any external changes to your life.

Answer provided by Dr Wendy Sinclair

Answer (2)
It is quite normal to reassess the meaning and directions of our lives at your time of life. Your questioning however, underlines what someone suggested to me many years ago: That women tend to define their identity through the quality of their relationships and men, through the quality of their work. Though this may be a generalisation, I believe it to be largely true. He finds his work exciting and fulfilling, yours you say, is predictable, part time and "convenient". It frees you up to spend time with your husband but then, he's not available. Sounds like you are the only female in an all male houshold. Ostensibly, they're all just fine, but you're not.

I'm not going to start guessing at what's going on here with the available information but you do sound quite isolated with your doubts and feelings. I think it's very important that you access some help in looking at what's happening and in making the appropriate decisions. You have every right to let your husband know your feelings of loneliness and that you'd like to spend more time together. Perhaps he needs a reminder that to take someone and some things for granted may be "convenient" but ultimately, it doesn't work to anyones' advantage.

Answer provided by David White, Psychotherapist

Answer (3) I wonder if and to what extent you have openly shared these aching dissatisfactions and poignant life questions with your man. When and how to make the time to do that. Usually it's on holidays, but then part of us doesn't want to spoil their break or our chance to soak up the atmosphere. If it's at home, chances are his beeper will go off just as you're getting to the point. Nothing is impossible in medical practice, there is always another way of doing the same thing. Ask any practice manager or their 'work place spouse' - they are experts at saving their boss's marriages.

However, few events hurt a committed person following their heart's calling to medicine more than waking up in the morning to discover the person they most care about is deciding or has decided to reject them and their marriage and depart for a life on their own or with another. It leaves them unmended and burdened, a bit like the lingering after effects of open heart surgery, of having their chests cracked open whilst they sleep and strangers heaving around inside their souls playing Mozart or Bach or Led Zeppelin to make it seem all so normal. It isn't normal and it hurts and it goes on hurting. Both of you. So, in addition to getting some personal therapy, please, please speak this to him and as reluctant as he, like most medicos in my experience are to admit the need of help, go together to a couple's therapist, soon. If he has a practice manager or PA, get them to arrange it and secure the appointments well into the future. It will take time to turn this around and for you two to re-discover the intimacy you are both capable of enjoying.

Answer provided by Peter Fox, Clinical Psychologist

Answer (4) I cannot know your thinking and I offer these speculations in hope one or more of them is useful. Your appreciation of your husband's love of his work may be preventing you from giving your own needs and wishes similar weight. What seems to be at stake in your account is the relationship between you and your husband. Does he not share an equal responsibility for the health of this relationship? Men (and women) can avoid the normal complexities of family life and living with a partner by overwork. It can even be addictive. Finding fault with a "hard worker" can be difficult, especially when the work is valued by the partner and the community.

Companionship is probably the most enduring benefit of relationships. You have a right to tell your husband this is not happening and you are lonely, and to air your concerns about the future once the company and distraction of children reduces when they leave home. It may be that your husband is having similar fears. Sharing your concerns may be a relief to him. His work may be his way of avoiding the problem. Working together, you may find you can re-configure work and build a new and rewarding relationship as a couple again.

Answer provided by John Hunter, Counsellor

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