Question: I'm feeling very conflicted about my relationship and afraid that I'm going to come across as a bit of a heel. I'm now in my early 50s and about 30 years ago I met a woman who blew me away. She was sophisticated, stunningly beautiful and seemed beyond my reach. She was also 18 years older than me, but then it did not seem to be a problem.
I chased her for a long time and, as I was lucky enough to make a lot of money, I was able to treat her to all kinds of luxuries. She was very wary at the time, saying that the age difference was too much and she was worried that she would regret it later. I brushed all this off as I was blindingly in love and, eventually, we got married and for many years it was brilliant and we were totally into each other.
However, she is now 70 and, while still beautiful and effervescent, there are lots of differences in our relationship and it’s impossible to ignore them. I am no longer attracted to her physically and she is not interested in sex – in fairness, she probably has been pretending to have an interest for a long time.
I know she is worried about me leaving and she does not challenge me in the way she used to and is always checking up on where I am and who I'm with. We did not have any children and it's only in the past few years I've been thinking about this and wondering if I still have a chance for this in my life. I feel so bad for thinking this way, but it's getting harder to ignore the reality of her age and I am simply not near this phase of life myself.
If I wait another 10 years, it will be too late for me to begin again, so I’m wondering should I end the relationship now?
Answer: It feels that you are paralysed in your relationship and this may be mirrored by your partner who is now afraid that if she challenges you or admits her insecurity she will drive you away. Perhaps this is what is really happening in your relationship – she is now very insecure and you are both reacting to this by standing back and evaluating instead of getting stuck in together and working things out.
It seems you were very attracted to her independence of spirit and her beauty and now she is concerned about these things and you may be feeling that you have lost something that was very valuable to you. All relationships hit rough times and perhaps you are over-focusing on the age difference rather than looking at what has created the division and lack of connection.
You say that your partner has lost interest in sex and I wonder about this. Women of 70 can and do have very good sex lives so I’m wondering if she is withdrawing out of fear that her body is not what it once was or that you might now be critical of her. She may be hyper conscious of this but people of all ages have to deal with body changes and with love and acceptance they can come through to allow their bodies the pleasure of sex and intimacy.
It seems that you both are currently contributing to the question marks around your relationship but you are not talking together about it. This is probably due to fear: fear of causing hurt and upset and fear of bringing on the ending. Earlier, you both took on fear and overcame it with huge success so I wonder if you can again engage and meet each other where you are at with full openness and honesty. This is what intimacy is and you both have been missing this for some time.
Predicting an outcome is not possible but you have desires and needs that need to be discussed and your partner also has desires and fears that she is currently keeping to herself. Surely you two owe it to each other to fully understand what is going on before a decision can be made.
You describe the love you had earlier in the relationship as "blinding" and you may be seeking to re-experience this but real love is trickier and more substantive than that. In a huge research study in 'Enduring Love in the 21st Century', conducted in the UK in 2014, couples reported kindness and friendship as the most important aspects of relationship and perhaps this is something you should prioritise before considering letting go such an important relationship in your life.
If you continue to struggle with this decision, I recommend some sessions with a psychotherapist or psychologist to help you unravel your own issues in this situation.
This is a very important decision and it deserves all the time and attention you can give it.