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Role Reversal, Loneliness & Mid-life Crisis

QUESTION: We are in our mid-40s. My wife has a highly stressful high-level job and spends her day meeting lots of people. We are currently living overseas. I am a house-father who does periodic professional freelance work from home, but I have a large amount of free time.

For the past few years our routine is that having had dinner (which I usually prepare), our children aged 5, and 9 are put to bed (around 8:00pm). My wife then lies down on the couch in front of the TV set and falls asleep within minutes, normally awakening around 11:00pm at which point she goes to bed and to sleep again immediately. Saturdays are normally spent on routine things my wife has no time for during the week, such as hairdresser's, pediatricians etc. and she sleeps in the afternoon. Sundays are almost the same.

Given the foreign environment in which we live, we do not have any real friends. My main contact with the outside world is through my wife. Whenever I broach the subject of when we are supposed to have time for one another my wife begins a tirade saying "if I had to go to work at 6:00am I would be tired too and that one of us has to work." (We live in a country where it is virtually impossible for foreigners to be employed unless they happened to be sent by their company here). Usually having sat around for a while hoping that my wife will wake up and talk to me,- which rarely happens I go to use my Internet account. On occasions when I have tried to go out with people who might become friends my wife has gone into a fit of rage, and on one occasion when I had a few lunches with a woman I had chatted with on our local BBS (who was deformed) my wife accused me of wanting to have an affair with her.

I have been at a loss to understand what is going on and how it can be corrected. I have wondered also if it is possible that some hormonal imbalance (perhaps pre-menopausal could be the source of the problems). Can you provide any advice?

It sounds like you are on the other side of a reversal in the usual gender roles in your marriage. Nurturing is often devalued work in the family. And it has traditionally been performed by women. Perhaps it is because in our modern societies we do not value our children that we do not give proper credit to the work of parenting! Making money is an important part of caring for our children. But no more so than primary caretaking and daily emotional nourishment which is necessary to a child's psychological well-being. Emotional and economic welfare are both important to your children and need to be equally valued in the family.

Suggest your wife get a physical workup to check for any medical reasons for her fatigue. She may also desire a consultation with a gynecologist concerning hormonal levels and possible medications for her symptoms of fatigue which may be related to perimenopause. However, in addition explore the roles of men and women in your families. How was emotional and economic caretaking for children shared in your childhood, your wife's childhood? Did men and women respect each other and the work they contributed to the family?

Sit down with your wife and share your loneliness in your marriage. Ask her what she believes her jealousy is about? Is she angry at being the bread-winner of the family? Are her expectations for fulfillment in the job what she thought they would be when she started upon her career? Does she have any regrets in mid-life?

Your wife may be suffering from mid-life crisis. Like many men at this point in the life cycle who have given most of their life to career goals, women may experience mid-life crisis as a painful awakening of what has been missed by not spending time connecting to the intimate emotional life of the family. Mid-life for women is also complicated by complex perimenopausal symptoms that can contribute to mood swings and irritability. Biological changes can exacerbate, but do not generally cause feelings of jealousy.

Let your wife know that you need her to be your friend and you need to have other non-sexual friendships. The health of your marriage depends not only on nurturing one another, but on having friends, too. Friendships enhance a good marriage. Without outside interests and support, a marriage implodes from the pressure of unrealistic expectations that your partner fulfill all of your adult needs. Although your wife may enjoy adult interaction at the work place, your situation lends itself towards isolation.

However it may also be necessary to build greater intimacy into your relationship with your wife at the same time you consider developing new friendships. Your marriage is experiencing some difficulty at this stage. Let her know that you want to spend time with her. Her jealousy could also be related to her fear that you no longer find her attractive at mid-life, and will leave her for a younger woman.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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