The first time that I met with Mrs. Z, an attractive 54 year old woman, she described this recent scene:
I felt like canceling Valentines Day with my husband. We were meeting in New York City and I arrived at Port Authority on a gloomy, rainy day. As I walked across town the rains came down with a vengeance and the winds swept the water under my umbrella. That afternoon, I had taken extra care with my make-up and my hair. Suddenly, it all dismantled under the endless streams of water. As I passed a store window, I looked at my reflection. My hair was matted down on my forehead, and the makeup had already dripped away. I saw my clothing cling to my body showing every bulge.
When I arrived at my husband’s building, I took the elevator up. The receptionist was a very attractive young woman with long, curly, thick brown hair, a sharp contrast to my matted down, already thinning, middle-aged hair. She barely acknowledged me as she called my husband’s administrative assistant to take me to my husband’s office. Sally, the admin, had stunningly silky long hair, a beautiful figure and was dressed to the nines for her own Valentine date that evening. I could barely breathe as I walked into my husband’s office. I saw Sally as the other woman. She’s the one he thinks is such a wonderful secretary. She’s the one that meets all his needs at the office. I felt like strangling her as I managed a small smile. When I got to Roger’s office, his eyes lit up. I closed the door, sat down and cried. I really wanted to cancel Valentine’s Day.
Mrs. Z was in the throes of menopause. Her body was changing and she was no longer feeling as attractive as she once had felt. They had been married 30 years. She felt as if her husband was less interested in her and was frantically trying to win back his attention. Her life had been at home with her children and her last child had left for college. The nest was empty and the days felt long and tedious.
I asked questions about their relationship and found that they had a history of what they described as a good marriage. A couple of years ago, she noticed vaginal changes, dryness, and pain during intercourse. She began avoiding sex. He began to enjoy the attention of the women at work. She became increasingly frantic about whether he was more interested in them, specifically his cute administrative assistant, than in her.
Mrs. Z and I spoke about her interests and what she was like before she married and had children. She was an art major in college and never lost her love of the art world. She began to work on getting herself refocused on her own interests. She joined an artist co-op so that she did not have to paint in isolation and soon began feeling good about herself again.
They began to have honest discussions about their sex life. They had never discussed sex before because they never felt the need to do that. He shared that he had felt rejected and that he thought maybe she was having an affair with someone else because of her lack of interest in sex with him. The worse he felt, the more that he threw himself into work. The more he avoided her, the more she felt rejected. As they began to see the cycle, they began to work on understanding what was going on between them. They worked on understanding the need for communication rather than avoidance. The spark that they once had began to be rekindled and they started to enjoy sex and each other once again.
A year after they left therapy I received a note from Mrs. Z. She said that their relationship was back on track, but as importantly, she had reinvented herself, was having an art show, and was beginning to think about going back to school to get the credits she might need to become an art teacher.
All information is disguised in several ways for maximum confidentiality. Submitted by Randy Freeman, MSW, a Marriage Friendly Therapist in Wayne, New Jersey. She can be found at rfreemantherapy.com