Today's post was written by Kelley Jones, a Brook Hills member and a licensed professional counselor at Wellspring Christian Clinic.

After experiencing menopause and a body that will no longer cooperate as well as plenty of aches and pains, one wonders why the topic of sex after fifty is even a possibility! If we haven't killed our husbands while going through menopause, then there may be hope for a deep intimate relationship with him.

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor who has been counseling for most of my life due to my dysfunctional family’s lessons. Since about the age of seven, I realized I could shift in such a way as to relieve some stress in my family. Thus became many years of trying to help people feel better. Eventually I went back to graduate school to get an actual credible degree in counseling and have been going strong as a professional for over twenty-six years. After working with young women who said they couldn't help having sex because “after all their hormones were running wild” and also counseling many women who have long sense experienced “wild running” hormones, interestingly there are some similar themes that have surfaced. Primarily, these themes have to do with how each of these women felt about themselves!

Many young people struggle with having a strong sense of themselves as acceptable (self-esteem) as do many of us older gals. For the young and the older alike, this can cause a great deal of problems in the bedroom. I’ll explain what I mean. One speaker I heard a long time ago said that “sex and cellulite go hand in hand!” What he meant was that it takes being old enough to really know who you are to be able to engage in deep sexual intimacy. If we are shaky regarding our worth and value, then we will not “show up” in the bedroom. Our bodies may be there, but our mind and heart are far away.

For intimacy to occur, both parties have to be able to tolerate emotional connection as well as have a strong sense of who they are. In other words, not allowing guilt, shame, and/or fear to control us in the face of emotional closeness. The top five fears of intimacy that may interrupt closeness are: fear of rejection, fear of criticism, fear of engulfment by the other partner, fear of the other’s aggression, and/or fear of my own aggression. Because each of us have or has had one or some of these fears, staying close can be risky business. If we do not tolerate these fears very well, then we will either try to control our partner, just accommodate our partner, cut-off emotionally, or vacillate between any combination of these responses all in an effort to lower relational anxiety. Just as Adam and Eve hid from God, we also will hide from our partners.

Unfortunately, these responses to fear of intimacy either demand excessive closeness or excessive distance. This is where the feelings of being disconnected from our partners thrive. Also unfortunate is that many feel they have to leave a relationship in order to be themselves because they cannot stay up close to their partner and maintain their vulnerability, openness, self esteem, etc. In abusive relationships, you may have to leave, but I am not talking about those very disordered relationships. Instead, I am talking about those who want to stay but fear playing! I have learned from some great scholars that couples do not have “communication problems” they have “tolerance problems.” As you can see, if you do not tolerate the anxiety of staying open and friendly when fear is triggered, you are more likely to stop saying what you really mean and either accommodate, control, or cut-off emotionally!

Couples communicate constantly whether verbal or non-verbal. Most know they have said everything the other can tolerate or they themselves don't want to tolerate the stress of an open conversation. Because we know how our spouses may respond and they can predict how we will respond, both parties may stop being honest. I Corinthians 13:6 states, “love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” When anxiety about being authentic and honest with our partners becomes too threatening, we will suppress our real feelings, leaving resentment to grow in the fertile ground of disconnection. It's very difficult to be open and exercise self-control when you resent your partner. You can see how we must cling to God in order to stay vulnerable and honest. The Word is full of Scripture that describes God’s closeness and compassion when we are afraid. As Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent, we will blame each other. The Psalmist tells us in chapter 56:3 “When I am afraid I will put my trust in God.”

There are many reasons why these fears are so engrained in us. Childhood abuse, dysfunctional family systems, addiction, trauma, and/or mood disorders can cause these fears of intimacy. Hopefully by the time we are in our fifties, we have addressed these emotional pains and have more control of ourselves as well as more confidence regarding our worth and value. The more we can “hold on” to the truth about who we are, the more we can get “lost in” love. Intimacy requires self-mastery instead of trying to master our spouses. This is no small undertaking. Because we have the power through the Holy Spirit to grow, see truth, and heal, we have tremendous hope. If childhood or traumatic issues continue to be a problem, you may need professional help. May God bless you as you struggle to be an involved intimate 50+ partner!
 

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