Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships

Dear Stacy:

I am a working mom in her 30s. My marriage is strong. My family ties are good. I get an enormous amount of joy being a mother to twin 6-year-olds. But I’m also realizing that I am very lonely when it comes to female friends. I have a few close ones in this area who are just as busy as I am, and we have trouble keeping up with each other. More and more, I’m realizing that I am missing my “girlfriendships” of the past – women who know what’s going on in my life, who call or email regularly, whom I can count on in a crisis and so on. Making new friends at this stage in my life seems really difficult. I was hoping to meet some through the various “mommy and me” groups I joined when my kids were little, but those relationships stuck pretty close to the kids and their development, not moving into personal lives or going much deeper. I am a supervisor at work: that makes it hard for me to bridge those relationships into anything more. I have tried to connect with some of my husband’s friends’ wives, but we also have little in common. I miss the days when the world was structured to help me make friends: school, sorority rush, happy hours in my 20s. How do you make new, real friends as an adult?

- Needs a Ladies Night

Dear Ladies Night:

I completely empathize with your situation. The post-mommy period is rife with opportunities to feel marginalized. Our culture’s new pastime of criticizing other moms’ life choices (See the SAHM vs. working mom debate online? On second thought, don’t.) makes new friendships even harder to trust. Not all of us got pregnant at the same time, in the same town, and with the same post-partum work schedules that allow us to be in the same life stage as our best friends from high school. Sad but true.

The isolation, judgment, anxiety and frustration you are feeling right now is actually quite similar to that found in other life stages. You could apply the same adjectives to describe a new freshman in college, a 40-year-old transplant to a new town, the newly retired, the recently widowed – in other words, you really are describing the human condition here. My point is not to “Just deal because we’re all feeling it,” it’s to realize, “Wow, we’re all feeling it, so maybe I can risk a little bit and put it out there that I am looking to make some closer friends.”

Committing to having coffee, lunch or drinks with at least one female friend – new, old or marginal – each week can do wonders to increase your confidence about connecting and give you the chance to feel like someone else knows what you’re going through. It wouldn’t be a “Murphy’s Love” column if I didn’t put in at least one plug about therapy – so perhaps a support group for moms (not one masked as a playdate) would be a good place to explore your feelings about friendship in this stage. Therapy groups are not places to make friends, mind you, but one might help you get clear about why this particular developmental stage is so difficult right now. Email me for some specific suggestions in your area.

Dear Stacy:

My wife and I have been married for 20 years. We have two high school-aged kids and have enjoyed the experience of being parents, watching them grow and change, and basically structuring our lives around their care and wellbeing.

At the same time, we both are really looking forward to sending them off to college so that we can start traveling and spending more time following our own personal pursuits. My concern is this – we have been a “low-sex” couple for the last 10 years or so. For us, this means that we have sex about once every two months. I would like to have sex more often, but my wife has not been interested for a long time. I am starting to realize that my visions of us being together in our empty nest include a lot more sex. I am just now recognizing that this has been part of my fantasy about this stage of our lives and am starting to worry that she may be caught off guard by my high expectations.

I know you’re going to suggest therapy, and I think it’s a good idea. We had some several years ago when we were dealing with one of our kids’ learning disabilities. I just don’t know how she will react when she is the named patient, and we’re there to address her lack of sexual desire. How should I approach this topic?

- Counting the Days in D.C.

Dear Counting:

Yes, we both agree that counseling is a good idea, but let me elaborate on that point.

The purpose of inviting a third party (Read: the therapist) into this conversation is to set some ground rules about how the communication is going to go. If we were all capable of speaking to our spouse in that calm, safe and connected manner already, this problem already would be solved. Most of us don’t have these skills right out of the box (or even after 20 years). So, instead, we use other methods to try and get what we want. We argue. We badger. We ignore. We use passive aggression. We manipulate. These are the unconscious tools we use to get our way. Yes, they are ubiquitous, but they rarely work without costing a price of some kind: long-term resentment, emotional isolation or foggy denial – take your pick.

A good couples counselor can help you feel comfortable enough to say what you need to say and help Wife be comfortable enough to hear it. Plus, employing an entirely new conversational paradigm might mirror the entirely new life paradigm you’re about to enter: Empty Nesting. I applaud the effort to be proactive as you start this very new chapter.

I do have one caveat. My guess is that you already employ some of the unconscious methods of getting what you want or convincing yourself that you don’t need it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be 20 years into a “low-sex marriage” that you admit is dissatisfying. Before you bring Wife into the counseling room to talk about her low libido, consider your own side to this story. How is it that you have fantasies about having more sex after the kids are grown, yet she doesn’t know about it already? How have you been hiding this from her? I guarantee this kind of conversation will be part of any couples therapy. So, in the interest of you not finding yourself blindsided, try a little more introspection about why you’ve maintained a dissatisfying sex life for so long, whether your frequent-sex fantasies do include Wife, and what your real goals are. When you’re clear about that, please approach her by saying, “I think counseling would help me with XYZ, will you come with me?” Avoid naming her as the “patient.” In other words, the phrase, “Let’s deal with your low-sex problem,” should never be a part of your script.

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. We really do want your questions. Send them confidentially to stacy@georgetowner.com.

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Sat, 25 Oct 2014 18:04:19 -0400

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