How's Your Marriage, Doctor?

Physician's Money Digest, August 2005, Volume 12, Issue 12

"Everybody hates me," saidDr. Mart as he began hisfirst visit with me. Hewent on to explain, "Ialways knew that my wife and I separatingwould be tough on the kids but Inever dreamed that it would be thispainful. My girlfriend is 32 and I'm 54.My son and daughter want nothing to dowith her. I'm not even allowed to utterher name when I see them. I've gonefrom being hurt and feeling rejected tofury. I'm really angry at them. I don'teven want to see them right now. Whatdo you think Dr. Myers, am I being childish?Have I regressed to their level?"

Dr. Mart's story is not rare. Manymen in their middle years and beyondare attracted to women who are youngerthan them, and a cohort of women findolder men attractive. Why? The reasonsare endless. But as a doctors'doctor andsomeone who's "in the trenches" everyday with unhappily married physiciansor physicians who are divorcing, I havesome observations.

A Man's Drive

First, for the men being with ayounger woman wards off aging and itsassociations, "I'm having fun again—fun that I never had when I wasyounger. I was always studying orworking or worrying. My girlfriend andI do lots of physical activities, and needlessto say, the sex is wonderful." Theremay be a wish for more children, "I'mgetting a second chance at being afather. I love my kids from my first marriagebut I was never around when theywere little. I missed so much. It's neatbeing a hands-on dad."

Sometimes the man is simply assertinghimself, "I couldn't care less whatpeople think. This is my life and youonly go this way once. I've lived mywhole life doing the right thing and tryingto please others. Now, it's my turn."There may be a mentoring or caretakingnotion, "I like it when people look up tome. I like to teach. I like to help. That'swhy I became a doctor and professor.My new wife was a student of mine."

What about narcissistic needs? Somedoctors will say, "It's pretty excitingknowing that someone so much youngerfinds you attractive. I need that. I wasunhappy and lonely in my marriage fora long time. My self-esteem took quite abeating. And I have to admit that I ampleased when Sally and I walk into socialevents and heads turn."

A Woman's Motives

Women's motives to be involvedwith older men tend to shadow men's.They like mature men, men who areprofessionally settled, "Being withFrank is centering for me. My otherboyfriends have been students orstruggling, young career types who arefull of themselves." Their maturitybelies their chronological age, "I'venever been into guys my own age—intellectually and emotionally. There'sa 20-year age difference but that's onlyon paper." Older men may providecomfort, "Ted is amazing. He's socalm. I can get very emotional and heknows how to handle it. I feel so safewith him." There may be a rich sexualconnection, "Jim is the best lover Ihave ever had. He's not just experiencedin bed, he's also kind and attentive."The financial security is alsovery attractive, "I've struggled all mylife. There's more to Walter than hisjob, but I do like knowing that I don'thave to worry about money anymore."

These dynamics are far fromexhaustive and address only thehealthier and adaptive needs in people.But they do help to explain men likeDr. Mart.

a clinical

professor in the Department of

Psychiatry at the University of

British Columbia in Vancouver,

Canada, is the author of Doctors'

Marriages: A Look at the Problems

and Their Solutions (Plenum Pub Corp;

1994) and How's Your Marriage?: A Book for

Men and Women (American Psychiatric Press;

1998). He is the past president of the Canadian

Psychiatric Association and welcomes questions

or comments at myers@telus.net.

Michael F. Myers,