Tell Me About It: I don’t want to stifle my wife’s plans to travel and pursue a PhD
PROBLEM: I am 44 years of age and I have worked very hard over the last 25 years to build up a successful business. I had become so obsessed with work that, in many ways, I forgot to live.
I rarely went on holidays, I kept a poor diet and did little exercise and put on a lot of weight. I also only ever had brief and short-lived relationships. Call it a midlife crisis perhaps but when I turned 40, I took on extra staff, reduced my workload and started to concentrate on my personal wellness. I lost weight got very fit and met the most beautiful girl. I say girl, she is 16 years my junior and while we often get funny looks from strangers and the odd jibe from friends about the very apparent age gap, our friends and family have always been very accepting of us as a couple.
She is a consummate and well-regarded professional in the industry in which we both work, and we have a lot in common. At the beginning of the summer after a three-year relationship we got married. However, on our extended honeymoon the age difference really hit me for the very first time. She is a millennial in every possible way – she spent almost every waking moment posting pictures online, there is not a breakfast nor a sandwich, let alone a Michelin-starred meal, that either of us ate that didn’t make its debut online. She video posted every single thing we did except obviously anything intimate.
It’s not only this, we spent a lot of time talking and she spoke passionately possibly for the first time about her hopes and dreams and while she says she wants to start a family soon I am not sure she is ready as she wants to do a PhD and do lots more adventurous travel.
But I now think that she is feeling pressured into having children while I am still relatively young, when in reality she has plenty of time. She is full of energy and full of life and I love her so much that I do not want to impede upon her ambitions.
ADVICE: Being in a relationship requires us to adapt, be less selfish and to always take the other person into account. Some of your letter feels a little as if you see yourself as a pseudo-parent – you do not want to stifle your partner or impede her ambitions.
It is not up to you to sort out this situation – it is up to both of you
However, your desires and wishes also need to be considered and having children when you are in your mid-40s has consequences for both you and them. You two are a couple who have committed to spending your lives together and so you must both get into the mix and figure out how to make it work. The 16-year age gap is a reality and one that both of you have to make adjustments for and it is not up to you to sort out this situation – it is up to both of you. It is wonderful that your wife wants to do a PhD and that she sees her future as encompassing all that she can conceive and perhaps you can begin to talk about how all of this can be included in your plans. You both need to be reassured that if you have disagreements or you are even hugely opposed to what the other is suggesting, you have still committed to the core of the relationship. This will allow for robust discussion without fear that someone will exit. It is likely that these conversations will happen over a period of time as it is unlikely that you will have achieved full understanding in a short timeframe. When there is conflict or disturbance, both sides need to be fully understood before a solution is sought. At the moment, both of you see your own solution as the way forward but this usually means that one person feels undermined. Loving each other should allow you to question and enquire until all aspects of the other’s situation is understood and then you can move to action.
Of course, any action will feel as though it is meeting one person’s need over another’s, so some agreement needs to be in place for the couple to support the other person’s need at a later time. You might decide together to have children now and in a few years your wife is fully supported in her academic goals or you might decide that her need to expand her career right now takes precedence and you put off having children for six or so years. In either situation, it is important that there is no resentment in the decision but that the couple will support the agreement.
All this starts with talking and being honest so without assuming the outcome of the discussion, begin talking and keep talking until you both feel understood and then something new will emerge.