Editor’s Note: Erica Manfred, author of He’s History, You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After 40, writes a weekly column at www.wowowow.com.
She answers reader questions about divorce, everything from how to deal with betrayal, to surviving the first year, to dating again, to finding a new career. If you have a question for the “Divorce Doctor,” e-mail submit@wowOwow.com. For more advice from Erica, visit www.heshistory.com.
Jane W. asks:
Why did he leave? My husband just told me he wanted a divorce after 30 years of marriage. He said he didn’t love me anymore, he hadn’t loved me for years, he’d just stuck around until the kids were grown. I was stunned. I had no idea he didn’t love me. We never fought, we agreed about everything, we enjoyed raising our kids, we had fun together. I was looking forward to a wonderful retirement together. OK … so we weren’t exactly passionate, but after 30 years, isn’t that normal? I am mystified and devastated. How could this happen out of the clear-blue sky with no warning?
Erica Answers: Actually there was a warning — you never fought. I just interviewed Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, which is based on her study of 373 couples over 23 years. Predictably, 46% got divorced. According to Dr. Orbuch your question is very common. She says it’s a myth that good marriages don’t have conflict. A lack of conflict means you’re not dealing with things that matter. The key is how the couple deals with conflict. “In general you don’t want destructive conflict with yelling and interrupting and withdrawing, both destructive,” she says. “Happy couples learn how to fight fair.”
Of course that answer is no help now that it’s too late. Or is it? Will he go to counseling with you? A friend of mine is in your situation and her husband has agreed to counseling, where all the anger he’s been storing up for 25 years is coming out. It’s extremely painful for her but she’s hanging in there. Maybe they’ll get back together, but even if they don’t at least she’ll know why her marriage broke up. She won’t make the same mistakes again.
Linda S. asks:
Is there sex after divorce? I’m 58 and my husband of 25 years left me six months ago for a younger woman. I’ve been crying nonstop since he left, but recently stopped crying long enough to surf Internet dating sites. There are some attractive men out there. After years of disinterest in sex (with him), suddenly I’m on fire. Every time a man comes into my office, I start thinking about what he’d be like as a sex partner. Is this normal? Should I start dating so soon, even though I’m still angry and hurting? If I do, should I have sex? I’m afraid I won’t be able to resist
Erica Answers: I went through the same thing after my husband left, although it took a little longer. I was stunned at how those sexual feelings started flooding back after so many years of death below the waist. The danger of sexual experimentation before you’re really over your ex is getting hurt yet again. I fell madly in love nine months after my husband left, and when it didn’t work out, I was devastated. Yes, sex is an escape from the relentless pain of grieving — and it’s a real ego booster to find that men are attracted to you, that you’re still a sexual being. But you’re exquisitely vulnerable at this stage.
Don’t set yourself up for more suffering. We women aren’t great at sleeping around without emotional connection. I’d say go ahead and start dating, have sex if you can’t resist, but protect your heart — take it very slowly. And protect your body — practice safe sex.