Tell Me About It: We’ve discussed having children and I’m frightened his desire for a family and active sex life will end our relationship
PROBLEM: Three years ago, I met and fell in love with a man six years younger than me. I am soon to turn 40 and have several long-term relationships and a brief marriage behind me. I really hope my current partner is my partner for life.
Despite the age gap, this is the best relationship I have ever had, and it is clear to all that we are deeply in love. Initially, our relationship was based on sex and even though the emotional bond between us has grown deeper, the sex continued to be explosive and very regular.
Over the past year and a half, we have started to discuss our long-term plans and we have both agreed that we would love to have a family together. About six months ago I missed a period and assumed I was pregnant. I didn’t tell my partner at the time as he was away on work. It did not turn out to be the case and I haven’t had a period since. I have been to my GP and whilst it hasn’t been a full year since my last period, the doctor is certain that I am entering menopause. I have some other symptoms and both my mother and sister had early menopause.
My sex drive has declined, although I haven’t indicated this to my partner. I have also been discreetly applying lubricant prior to having sex. This is known as the change, but for me this changes absolutely everything. I haven’t told my partner what my body is going through. He is a good person and I believe he will initially do the right thing and stay with me, but in the long run I think his desire for an active sex life and a family will win out.
I know that I need to tell him, but I am frightened.
ADVICE: You say that you have been growing in awareness of this issue for six months and that is a long time to hold a secret from an intimate partner. The biggest issue is the possibility of not having children but the longer you withhold this information, the bigger the gap of trust and this may aggravate any possibility of a joint approach to the problem. If you try to hold on to a relationship through deceitful means, it will probably have the opposite effect to what you hope for – that he will choose you as a life partner in spite of the difficulties. The grief and loss involved in losing the possibility of having your own children is happening to both of you and you probably have not allowed yourself to process this as you are so fixated on losing the relationship.
It is true that you and your partner may need to adjust your sexual pattern, but this is common to all couples
The menopause brings with it all kinds of loss and adjustment that you need to engage with, but it is a well-trodden path with reams of wisdom and advice available to you – you can start with your local women’s clinic, Irish family planning association or Well Woman clinic for help and advice. As you are aware, there are other options to having a family – from investigating IVF to surrogacy and adoption but you will probably not consider these options until you have first cleared the question of the relationship. The sooner you talk to your partner, the more real and spontaneous the conversation will be – there is a danger that you rehearse the words you will use and have all your arguments lined up, but this will only serve to alienate your partner. Be honest and truthful, even about your fears (including the fact that he is six years younger than you) and allow him the respect of coming to his own understanding and decision about his and your life together.
On the topic of sexual desire in menopause, that up-front desire often lessens but that does not mean that desire is gone. Very often, desire follows the initial engagement in sex and pleasure and orgasm are fully available to women of all ages. It is true that you and your partner may need to adjust your sexual pattern, but this is common to all couples and often the result is deeper intimacy. Lubricant is needed but this is nothing to be ashamed about and, in fact, can enhance the sexual experience. You may need to talk to your doctor as there are creams and medicines that may help your situation and it shows your determination to keep pleasure and intimacy in your life.
The first step is directly in front of you – text your partner now and ask to meet for an important conversation. This will make you speak truthfully, as you cannot then have a conversation about weather or holidays. You cannot predict the outcome, but you will grow your own self-esteem by practising courage and honesty. You both deserve to trust the other with your inner fears and concerns and this is your opportunity to find out if the relationship is robust enough to last the test of time.