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Apr 01 2009

Questions Answered

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Below are some real life questions and answers on midlife relationships that have been sent to Philip Belove, Ed.D.

SUBJECT:  I have tried to talk to him but we always end up fighting

Question: I am 39 yrs old, and my husband is 41.   We have been married close to 19 yrs (we married a month after, we met); we have 2 children (tweens).  And for the most part, I guess we are generally normal people; I guess I could say we are committed and live for each other, we enjoy being together, and share all the decision making in our home.  The highlight of our day is dinner with our kids and watch T.V. or a movie.
All is well, except that, I feel empty; there is a big part of me which feels lonely and neglected.  For every great happy day there is a dark-lonely one.  About a year ago, I was feeling low and took time, to look at my life from the outside, and made a conscientious decision to ignore and take out of the equation myself imposed family bliss.
I realized my entire life revolves around my family; I do everything, from house chores, cook, clean, kids, dog, and I also work full time out of my home.  With no other human interaction, or means to check life notes with other people; I am not sure if what I feel is normal, and although I have been struggling with these feelings for a while, I always find a way to bury them over and over again.  I have trained myself to forget, and get back to what I know… to my routine.
Now, here is the root of my dilemma; I do not know if my husband loves me, by that I mean, if he is in love with me.  I do not know if he is at all attracted to me or if he even desires me.  In 19 yrs we have never looked at each other while we are being intimate, he dislikes kissing, and when we hug his body language says he is uncomfortable he leans back and pushes me away.  He prefers to have sex standing behind me, and he is mostly aroused at the notion of anal sex.
I have tried to talk to him, but we always end up fighting before we even get to scratch the surface.  A few months back, I found a journal I used to keep before we had our children, in it, I describe the same feelings and questions I have today.
On my birthday he brought me a gift, and rather than felling happy; I felt sad.  I tried to kiss him twice to thank him, and he did not want me to.  I do not want material things, I want to feel loved.   I realize for every year, I have put all these feelings of rejection, away I am physically aching.  I have come to the conclusion; I am tricking myself in to thinking, he will change and if I do more to clear his time, maybe then he will have time to show me affection.  I am not sure, if I want to live like this the rest of my life.  I have considered what life would be without him, and although I love him; I need to love me too.  Ultimately, I am looking for your advice; is this normal? Am I being selfish? Is counseling an option? If so what kind of counseling?


Dear RBI,
Thanks for your letter.
You have a lot of presence of mind and self awareness.
You’ll need it.

Is this normal?
It’s normal for some.  It is a kind of midlife crisis.  Not everyone has one.
But the way it’s happening for you is normal.
You might want to read this article I wrote:

You are starting to ask the hard questions.  It’s a thing you can do once the children feel more launched and on their own. So you have a bit of a time line in front of you.

This is a time when you will have more questions than answers and that is how it should be.
At one time I gave the phases of the midlife emergence  (coming into your own)  paradoxical names.  It was appropriate because the only way out of an inadequate system of thought is through paradoxical actions.  I called this phase “confident doubting.” That is what’s happening to you. You are giving more and more respect to the questions which you used to shove away from you and deny.

For example, you say “In 19 yrs we have never looked at each other while we are being intimate, he dislikes kissing, and when we hug his body language says he is uncomfortable he leans back and pushes me away.”

You noticed this 19 years ago and you didn’t question it. Now you are getting serious about that.  It’s disturbing and yet, it’s good. It’s good for you to say, “No more.”  And yet if you continue, clearly you will have to do more than merely ask questions.  That will be the next phase.

At the same time you are being prudent and careful. It speaks well for you.

But a crisis is starting to flower.  (A “crisis” by the way, is a situation in which there is no turning back to what used to be normal. Something must change. The question is only “What?”

Of course counseling is an option. An option. You might want to get support as you go through this crisis.  It might be a matter of diligence.  The question is “What kind?”

It’s hard to tell given what you’ve told me.

there are many possibilities. I’ll try to list them.

1. He’s as unfulfilled as you are and you both know how lacking your marriage is and neither of you wants to say anything.  Couple counseling?

2. He is more afraid than you are of getting really intimate and he’ll resist.

3.  You’ve already let it go so long that it’s really too late for you.

4.  He is a long way from full frontal intimacy, and he isn’t about to reach for it. He’d rather be alone.

5. there is something in the way you are trying to get him to  open up that is only closing him down more. Not my first guess. I think he was like that before he met you and you chose him. But it’s still worth thinking about.

If you worked with me on the phone or skype I think I’d say that this is where you are at. You are looking at those possibilities and aren’t sure which way to go. Deciding which steps to take next would be the second task of the counseling. The first would be helping me get a better sense of your life and your current challenges.

I’d want you to consider that you might want to insist on couple counseling and maybe that’s an ultimatum.

I think I’d want you to understand that for you to continue in the marriage, it’s a free choice you make. You don’t owe it to him.  You do owe something to your kids and I’d want to sort through those obligations. But at a certain point you don’t owe them an intact marriage and you are free. You might even be serving them better by getting free.

And  then, for you, there are all the fears you’d have to face if you were to be free.  You probably chose that marriage for a set of solid reasons, some fearful, that were worthy 19 years ago. I’d what you to examine those reasons and reconsider them.

And also there is the question of who you want to be in the second half of your life. Are there dreams you want to realize?

So that’s how I’d handle it.  I think, before I’d simply recommend couple work, I’d want you to do a little personal work yourself.  It might be a good idea for you to have a safe place to explore some of your questions and think them through.

I would guess that getting him into counseling will not be easy. If he’s not all that intimate with you, I’m not  sure he could develop that relationship with a stranger where he could speak freely.  I  might be wrong.

Okay.That’s a lot. I hope I’ve done your question justice. It was a profound question.

If you feel like pursuing this conversation (and I would love to hear a follow up from you) please write back and you can do it directly to me at or through this web sit.

Do check out  There are some other articles there you might enjoy.

Also, sign up for the newsletter/blog.  thanks

Philip Belove, Ed.D.

Feedback: Thank you so much for your time and consideration.  I was drowning and you pulled me out!  I am amazed at the details of your response.  It takes great knowledge, experience, and compassion to thoroughly address each and every one of my worries, as well as the options and alternatives. Thank you again and many blessings to you.

SUBJECT: Dating a Widower

Dear Dr. Belove,

I have been dating a 61-year-old man who has been widowed 2 1/2 yrs. We are planning to be married and I find I don’t know what to say to his children regarding their mother and his deceased wife. I’m worried about showing our happiness in public. I want to respect his late wife’s memory and somehow express my sorrow, but also show my joy. They were married 33 years. Any comments would be most appreciated.

Respectfully, Laura

SUBJECT: A Man Who Keeps His Distance

Dear Dr. Belove,

My boyfriend is an expert here in the Science area. My question is regarding our relationship, which has me quite perplexed.  I am in my mid-forties, and he is in his late fifties.  He has been married and divorced twice, and had a live-in girlfriend after the second marriage ended.  I met him soon after that ended.

We are both educators – he at the university level, and I at the elementary level.  We have dated just over a year and it was just a few weeks ago that he told me he loved me. I am also in love with him.  This relationship is not like any I have experienced.  With a distance of 40 miles between us, we usually see each other once a week.  He seems content with that. I need more.

My question is . . . Is 4 months time enough to give someone (at my age) to decide what they want out of the relationship. As you know my clock is “banging” forget about the ticking!!!

For much of the past year, he has discussed our going places together.  They never materialize. However, he does many of these things with friends. Our dates are mainly staying in and eating a meal – then spending the night together.  We part early the next morning, even if it is the weekend (his doing).  I generally feel ignored by him, and we only talk on the phone once a week.  He has many friends, which I am happy about.  I too have many and know the importance of maintaining friendships.  He has gone on vacation, and though he said he would call to say goodbye, he never did. This is typical for him.

He is a highly intelligent man, and I wonder if more pressing things occupy his mind and he forgets much of what he tells me.  In addition, he is in his late fifties- as I mentioned.  I know he has had 3 bad relationships and may feel he must keep his distance.  I don’t know whether to begin seeing other men.  It was just 3 weeks ago that he told me I was the love of his life.  I love him, yet I am unhappy.

Are the things I describe about him common for an older, intellectual man who has had several failed relationships?  I don’t know what I should do. Thanks and I am sorry to make it so long.

SUBJECT: A Midlife Crisis

Dear Dr. Philip,

I am 45 yrs old. I was in a long term relationship with a woman, and she asked me to move out. Friday, which was three days before the deadline she gave me, I came home from work to find the front of the house littered with black plastic garbage bags which turned out to be filled with some of my things. The locks had been changed and a terse note taped to the door which advised me to remove my things within 48 hours. She took the majority of my things and either gave them away or sold them.

I did not deserve this treatment. I could not work, could not concentrate. I was alone homeless and very overwhelmed. I am employed. I helped with the living expenses. I purchased things for the home, like a stove, dishwasher, TV and other things. I remodeled the bathroom. I don’t drink or do drugs. I never fooled around.  I helped her mother out. I was a friend to her daughter, and participated in parent teacher conferences and her church.

We did have problems.  I was coming out of a bad stretch in my life where I was unemployed for a long time (2-3 yrs) and did not have my finances in order, nor did I have a lot of stuff. And due to prior cancer treatment I was not able to perform sexually as often as she would like.

But I gave what I had freely and without reservation. I endured her taunts about my sexual performance, and her ridicule about my financial situation. She was always super concerned about her physical appearance. I was never in her league and she would let me know it.

Now that this situation has passed, I feel like I will never marry or have a family. I do not date and don’t know anyone to ask out. Even if I did I would not inflict myself on them. I am ashamed and embarrassed.  So I guess I will have to spend the rest of my life alone. There is still an empty place in my heart.  I have no family, and those friends I thought I had are lining up to make time with the ex.

Oh, I am in counseling, but the counselor is not helping. I am getting angrier and angrier. I am acting out and saying and doing things that hurt people. I am forgetting to pay bills. my life is falling apart. I cannot sleep, I binge eat and I am gaining weight.  I am spending all of my time alone. I do not know anyone to even go out for coffee with.

Will I get past this? Will I find someone? What do I do? Please help.


SUBJECT: Noisy Biological Clock

Dear Dr. Belove,

I am a 41 yr old woman who just got out of a 7 year bad relationship. Before that I was married for 8 years but he died in a car accident. Now I’m new to the dating scene, and late (although I had been trying the first 10 years) in have a child, I am now “antsy” about finding someone and starting a family.

I have been dating a great guy now for 3 months and he knows how I feel. I’ve left the topic alone for some time now but come after the holidays I plan to see where the relationship stands and bail out if he’s not on the same path as I.


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