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Friday, July 18, 2008

Sexy Senior Citizens

I’ve been thinking about how sex plays out in “the senior years” lately. I have quite a few sixty and older clients right now and they keep me on my toes.

I was listening to my colleague, Dr. Dean Edell, on his national radio show recently. He was describing a study conducted in Scandinavia of senior citizens seventy and older. Essentially, the study found that many of these seniors were quite content with their sex lives. In fact, they were more satisfied now than they had been ten years ago in most ways that the research had evaluated.

As I listened, I was doing the math and realized that today’s seventy-year olds were in their late twenties and early thirties when the sexual revolution was going on. I thought about what might have caused them dissatisfaction in their sixties and why that might have lifted ten years later.

I don’t know for sure, but here’s my hunch. In the sixties lots of physical changes begin to set in that can derail or frustrate sexuality. It’s a time of adjusting to creaking joints, hearing aids, rising blood pressure and eyesight that yearns for arms just a bit longer than they are. The reality of mortality takes a firm hold on life and I suspect that it’s psychologically daunting for many people.

Yet, why would seventy-year olds be happier with their sexuality? I’ve noticed that some seventy-year olds simply refuse to give up. They enjoyed the fruits of what I think of as “the golden age of sex” (lots of sexual exploration coupled with no fatal diseases). Now, at seventy, they fully appreciate the gift that sex is and, “gosh darn it,” they won’t quit until they have to. So what if there’s an ache or pain; the natural morphine of orgasm will chase that away.

Another medical doctor colleague (in his late fifties) has this observation framed on his office wall, summarizing the cycle of life:

Life is graded on a curve.
At age 4, success is not peeing in your pants.
At age 12, success is having friends.
At age 16, success is having a driver’s license.
At age 20, success is having sex.
At age 35, success is having money.
At age 50, success is having money.
At age 60, success is having sex.
At age 70, success is having a driver’s license.
At age 75, success is having friends.
At age 80, success is not peeing in your pants.

I have no idea when this was written, but given the increasing longevity of seniors, I think that we could easily add another decade of “success is having money” at age 60 and in doing so, find that at 70 “success is having sex.” I know that many of my clients would agree and in about 15 years, I hope to agree as well.

Recently, one of my senior citizen clients sent me this:

Two elderly ladies are sitting on the porch, doing nothing.
One lady turns and asks, ‘Do you still get horny?’
The other replies, ‘Oh, sure I do.’
The first old lady asks, ‘What do you do about it?’
The second old lady replies, ‘I suck a lifesaver.’
After a few moments, the first old lady asks, ‘Who drives you to the beach?’

I really like the built-in assumption that “the first old lady” makes about her friend. I think that we should also make these assumptions and wait to be told that we’re wrong!

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 7:38 am

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Compassionate Husband and His High Maintenance Wife

I was working with a client this week who had come to the realization that he probably needed to end his marriage. Fortunately, there are no children involved.

A while back I had suggested that he read a book called Stop Walking on Eggshells. He did so and then returned to meet with me. I often recommend this book when I suspect that a client of mine has a loved one who has the mental condition called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In his case, I had met his wife and I was rather sure that this diagnosis was accurate, but rather than apply a label to her, I thought that it would be beneficial for him to come to his own conclusion.

He did. And, he was quite grateful for the reading suggestion because it had clarified so many things for him.

Once he finished the book, he dove into its recommended resources list and picked up The ABC’s of BPD, Love and Loathing, and Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist. He expressed such great relief about finally getting to a place of understanding his feelings while living with a wife with BPD.

And, interestingly enough, he was now trying to locate an attorney who understood the mental condition of BPD. Why? Because he still loved her and didn’t want to abuse or punish her in the way that some divorces can. He wanted his attorney to know what to expect and not select strategies that would likely worsen the process for him and for his wife. He wanted compassion in his divorce.

This man sat in my office like many other men I have met over the years who were coping with a similar predicament. I was struck by his big-heartedness. He, like the others, was kind, patient, understanding and, amazingly, not angry with his wife. These salt-of-the-earth men are filled with compassion that exceeds that of most others. I have often thought that they are among the few who can, for a while (sometimes a long while) make it work with a BPD mate. I felt my eyes water up a bit and saw that his did too.

Partners of BPD individuals cope with the no-win situations that their “high maintenance” loved ones repeatedly manufacture. If there is nothing wrong, they can find something. If everyone’s happy, they can find a reason not to be. If it’s been a pretty good day, they know how to bring everyone down. They can turn any compliment into an insult. Why do they do this?

The way that experts in this particular field describe it is this: BPD folks have a “hole in their soul.” There’s an emptiness inside that is almost intolerable. Rather than feel this aching void, they stir up the emotions of those around them with their actions. For a time, the distraction this causes solves their problem. They don’t have to feel the “hole.” But it only works…for a while.

As we were talking, my client pointed out a section in Splitting for attorneys. I listened and thought that divorce attorneys probably came into contact with an exceptionally high number of BPD clients (or opposing clients). I found myself wishing that all divorce attorneys would read the book with the hoped for result of much less pain for everyone involved. I’ve heard many stories about “impossible clients” and “drama queens” (and occasionally “kings”) from my colleagues who work in the world of divorce law. Here is some material that could really be of help if they would take the time.

All of these resources, plus various forms of support for people with BPD and their loved ones (including parents), can be found at BPD Central. If you are in a relationship with a “high maintenance” person, I think you might find some relief at this site.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 8:15 am

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