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Five Questions on Women in their 40s

Updated on July 11, 2008

What happens to a woman (physically, emotionally, mentally) when she hits her 40s? In other words, what can you expect a typical woman to feel when she hits this milestone?

There is no hard and fast rule. Depending on how a woman has been living her life up to that moment, she can choose and, to a certain extent, control what happens to her when she hits her 40s. Having to deal now with the realities of physical aging, intimacy/other emotional issues, and intellectual decline, she can choose to work at being: 1) physically fit (have regular medical check-ups, reduce stress, eat the right food, exercise regularly, stay upbeat); 2) emotionally competent (continue to know and develop herself, consider her limitations, maintain meaningful relationships); and 3) intellectually engaged (read, work, volunteer, remain socially active). She can also choose to stagnate in all areas or in any area of her life.

Does the typical woman in her 40s really go through a crisis of sorts regarding her life's achievements, her success in the different roles she plays in her her life, her perceived attractiveness?

I do not like to use the word "crisis" because it has such negative connotations but yes, in midlife, women may assess how far they've gone. They look at their achievements in terms of self-development, career, family matters, community involvement and they may make up for what they perceive to be "deficiencies."

If a woman is still single, this is the time when she may decide to get married. If she is childless, she may decide to have a child to beat the biological clock. If she has been very involved in her job, she may decide to quit to take better care of her children. If she realizes she has been pursuing the wrong career, she may launch a second career or go back to school and retool for one. If she is in an unhappy relationship -- she may decide to end it or seek help to make it work.

It may be typical for women to go through this midlife passage -- but their responses to the questions raised will not be typical and will definitely vary. There are even those who believe that midlifing is a middle-class phenomenon and does not concern people struggling for survival.

As for "attractiveness" -- this may be a "liability" for a woman when she has either too much or too little of it that it becomes a crucial part of her self-definition. If she has always considered herself a beauty, physical aging may make her feel that she has lost that part of herself that made her attractive to men. If she feels unattractive -- aging may make her feel even more so. One solution for such women is to develop their "competencies" in other areas.

Does menopause (or the threat of it) have anything to do with this crisis, or with the changes she experiences?

Menopause signifies different things for different women. For some, it may be the end of the world. They take it to mean that one is no longer young and desirable. For others, it may be the beginning of a new phase and a time for more personal freedom.

Some cross-cultural studies on menopause suggest that experiencing menopausal symptoms is heavily influenced by cultural attitudes and expectations. Gail Sheehy, who has written a book on menopause, says that women in Asian countries report fewer and less severe symptoms than menopausal women in the West and generally have no regrets about the loss of fertility.

Is it normal for women to have romantic fantasies about people other than those they're married to or committed to? How about a desire for more exciting lives? Or flings?

When you are young and starry-eyed and dreaming of getting married, you believe that marriage is going to give you everything you ever wished for -- a wonderful husband, gifted children, emotional and financial support, and a secure place in a community of like-minded people. You may look around, observe other couples, and start having romantic fantasies about people other than the one you are married to. This is normal. Who does not want more excitement in her life? Who isn't tempted to have a fling - that heady experience that tells us we are still attractive?

A fantasy every now and then does not hurt anybody. But when a woman feels emotionally distant from her partner and makes her situation bearable by indulging in fantasies, this can present a danger. We indulge in fantasies when we feel that something is missing in our life. Getting the kind of relationship you can enjoy may mean giving up certain deeply entrenched fantasies, like your fantasy of what a marriage is supposed to be. You stop wondering if there isn't someone who will make you feel better. If you give up that illusion, you can be fully in your marriage and not feel like you are missing something.

How should the "evolved" 40- and 40-something woman deal with these issues? Any specific resources to consult, regimens to begin, etc.?

Get a life, as the young ones would put it. Develop your own interests. Nurture your friendships. If you have a life of your own -- the idea of being married and catering to the needs of your family will not be oppressive.

Find your voice. Express your needs and encourage your partner to do the same. "Expressing yourself using your authentic voice," says Harriet Lerner, author of the book The Dance of Connection, "is the key to making intimate relationships work." Even when it's not spelled out in words, couples know each other's bottom line, just like kids know what they can and can't get away with.

Take the risks involved in constantly redefining your relationship. Push for the necessary changes that you have to make as a couple. This will ensure that friendship and equality are present in your marriage. There is no chance for intimacy in a relationship when there's a core inequality that is not acknowledged -- and challenged.

Be in the present. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in her book Gifts from the Sea -- "Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

Most important of all -- take responsibility for making yourself happy.


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    • profile image

      Sonia 2 years ago

      I just want my freedom...I do not know if I would like to be attached to anyone. My boyfriend of many years is not what I want anymore..just want to enjoy my life at 41

    • profile image

      Lori 3 years ago

      You article is exactly what I have been experiencing! I feel depressed and hopeless about not doing enough with my life. My looks are changing and don't feel as intellectual as I once felt. Thank you for writing this article, it helps to know I'm not alone and gives me some kind of relief that I'm not going Crazy...!

    • profile image

      Priscilla 3 years ago

      Add Your Comment... I have just turned 40 and I have been married for 17 years with 4 children. But my marriage has been my greatest challenge and yet am married to a very matured man, much older than me who I thought would have really pampered me. I am disappointed with his attitude of running after women.

    • profile image

      Jen 5 years ago

      Thank you for putting this "out there". I am turning 40 and now that my kids are pretty independent I am analyzing what my role is and am having a difficult time figuring it out. I need to "get a life". I have been supportive of everyone for so long that I, very subtlety, have gone from being a very independent person to someone who is totally dependent on everything. Pathetic! Any recommendations on how to go about doing this? I do have a lot of social interaction. Hobbies? Mostly independent hobbies. hmmmm....time to start thinking about myself for a change. Scary!

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      Bella 5 years ago

      I am 39. I've achieved health, family and a career, but now I'm feeling anxious about the next decade. I do feel like time is slipping away and I wander if this is all I will achieve? I've been married for 21 years and I think my greatest challenge is my marriage.

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      Tonya 5 years ago

      I am 43 and am experiencing depression as well as feelings of doubt I am told it is pre menopause but I am not sure. I just would like to enjoy life and not have to deal with all the bad stuff of growing older

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      Laura 5 years ago

      I am 48 and people always tell me I look about 40.

      I am very healthy and active, I have regular medical check-ups.

      I am not afraid of my age because to me it's just a number, I always get nice compliments and get younger men after me all the time.

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      rahbin 5 years ago

      interesting comments, love the strength in many of the answers, the uncertainty in many of the questions, and the original post - find your voice, seek equality, make your own happiness! i'm in serious perimenopause at 44, day and night-long hot flashes with full sweats, memory is not what it was, fuzzy in the brain, redefining my career and family life with a new husband who is my partner and equal (what a change!). ran my first half marathon on my birthday - onwards and upwards!

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      Suzy 5 years ago

      I'm 42 now & approaching 40 was hard, I suffered with various illness's one after the other, memory loss, mood swings & just a general feeling that I was losing myself, having since tried various vitamins & supplements & continuing to use them daily along with daily exercise I can say I definitely do feel generally much better & in control. Some women suffer more if you're one who does then don't just suffer experiment to find what helps you most because at the end of the of the day nobody can or will do it for you. Good luck ladies.

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      Nikki 5 years ago

      I will be turned 40 in 4 months and I really don't know how to feel abou this 40 thing. I'm not afraid of it , I'm more concerned about where my life is going from here. I've made some mistakes in the path, regarding I'm not at my desired place of employment...but happy to have a job especially during these times. I have a wonderful family, hubby and three kids and a dog. So, from that aspect life is great. However, I more concerned about me... I've been giving all of myself and leave myself last and that is really getting old and I can tell it because of some selfish things that I've done. I'm just hoping for a change for the good for wise, health and wealth...I'm tired of worrying about will I always be financially challenged...and I want to always look my best.

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      forever21 5 years ago


      girls, I am now 39 but dreading a thought of turning 40 @ the end of the year 2012...I liked the post of Fearless single beauty though its the other people we worry about who thinks that we r old and somehow we tend to face resentment and negative behaviors....If we take care of ourselves with healthy diet and working out on daily basis and having a positive attitude like 40 is new 25, and ignore how and what people say about our age...we defenitely will stay forever young...:D we can be like the forever young beauties angelina jolie, salma hayek, and sofia vergra....Happy new 20's girls....

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      Alex 6 years ago

      I hated the thought of turning 40, but last week the inevitable happened and I hit my landmark birthday. To my amazement I had a fantastic time; I really enjoyed it and I'm still celebrating! Turning 40 was tough for me; I really struggled with coming to the end of my thirties and not being where I wanted to be in life. A couple of days before the big day I finally managed to calm down, accept the process (because there isn't any choice!) and then finally I began to enjoy it, which was a complete surprise! It's all very new at the moment, but now all the fretting is over, I feel like I can relax and focus on being positive about 40.

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      Jo 6 years ago

      In the cold harsh light of day, when all your wrinkles are at their crinkly best, turning 40 will be turning 40. Always was and always will be. It's going to happen to me in a few weeks and I'm dreading it.

    • profile image

      Fearless single beauty 6 years ago

      Isn't 40 nowadays is the new 25? I just turned 40 a few months ago and actually didn't feel any different. I think as long as you take care yourself with healthy diet, routine daily exercise and always keeping yourself occupied, we will all be fine. It is society and other people opinions that tend to worry women. I have seen many women who look more beautiful naturally as they get older, I think it comes from experience, challenges, wisdom and many more beautiful and worrisome things that we encounter in life. Aging is a natural process so just embrace it because life is such a beautiful thing....

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      Anya 6 years ago

      I always hoped that I'd have a family by now. Instead I find myself 40 and single with no children, watching friends with their families instead. It's actually quite devastating and like all those other people I never thought it would happen to me. I try, but sometimes all the positive words in the world don't help. If it wasn't for that I really don't think I'd care a less!

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      Emma 6 years ago

      It feels strange turning 40 soon and not something I ever thought about facing. People have been mentioning it for some time and I've been brushing it off, but as the big day approaches I realise that it is going to happen. I finally feel like there aren't any excuses any more and I'm going to have to adapt to my new level of maturity. I am scared, but slowly coming round to the idea because I have to and at least this article highlights that there are choices and things to embrace. I need to keep focusing on these.

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      Kimmy 6 years ago

      How do I get in touch with Iris? You wrote my life's current situation? Would love to be able to type or write to someone who feels (felt) exactly the way I do...

    • profile image

      Bea 6 years ago

      I've been feeling very apprehensive about turning 40 in a few months, but this is a really positive article. Thank you

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      nadya 7 years ago

      hi i m turning 40 next year in april,i m very worried bout it,but i m investigating all over the place about it, u r article it does reliefe my anger and help me to learn more about my self,and to make a better path

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      Ofelia 8 years ago


      You article has filled in a missing piece of the puzzle for me...I am now 46, in the process of divorce because there was no equality in my marriage...fantasies became my only way of survial of being able to bear the marriage...thank you so much your article has help me understand myself.

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      iris 8 years ago

      I am 47..about the time that I turned forty I felt deep resistance to things I had been okay with in the past...certain relationships, roles and obligations...conventions if you will. It was as though the bucket had gone completely dry...there was no refilling the well just because I willed it. I realized I had to let go of things that had lost their meaning...I didn't want to take care of everybody..I needed space and a sense of freedom...I wanted to do things for me, not just for the "greater good" It was time to recreate my own life. Unfortunately I also felt certain resentment. It has not been easy...I am working to recreate my life but I feel at a certain I waited a bit too long. I say if you get the urges...act, don't wait. It takes time for everybody to adjust...and change threatens sometimes...

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      Dave 9 years ago

      my wife who is 40 and a half , her memory is going has any else experiancing the same?

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      Pearl Lim 9 years ago

      Hi Bernie. I am a 40 years old asian single woman. I felt somehow relief after reading the article. Before I turn 40, I always had the fear of facing what was going to happen to me: my health, emotion and ability, Now I felt that I am not alone and have some how doing something right along the way to face my midlife issue.

      Thanks and I learn to accept what I am and take responsiblif of our own happiness. Let's all live our life to its fullest!

    • BernieQuimpo profile image

      BernieQuimpo 9 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks, Iveta. I enjoyed reading your hubs on nature and our "amazingly beautiful world".

    • iveta profile image

      iveta 9 years ago from UK

      Excellent! Thank you for a very good information. I am a 40 years old .

    • BernieQuimpo profile image

      BernieQuimpo 9 years ago from Philippines

      Babes -- it is so tempting to just sit back and relax and wait for people to make us feel happy. But, like you said, we could be in for a long, long wait.

      Panjee -- you are the person I wish I could have been when I was your age. I am glad you are so generous in sharing the lessons you have learned in life. Your articles on ways to achieve balance in one's life have been very inspiring for me.

      Claire,my kababayan. I am glad this hub was helpful for you.

      Thank you, Patty, for your comment. It means a lot to a relative newbie like me to be visited by a master hubber.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Excellent - Get a Life and Find a Voice - exactly!

    • clairebretana profile image

      clairebretana 9 years ago from Iloilo City, Philippines

      This is a very informative article, Bernie. Thanks for sharing this. I'm not yet reaching the big four-oh (I'm 30 years old), but I'm already besieged by some of the questions here, especially the ones regarding children and career path. This hub greatly helped me see things more clearly and appreciate my life and achievements more.

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      Panjee T. 9 years ago

      Hi Bernie,

      I'm 41, turning 41 in October, and I have to say that entering my 40's is an exciting journey. The thirties was full of pain and sort of like giving birth to your true self and now the forties is learning to walk on the path of who you really are. Scary and exciting!

      Great work!


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      Babes B. 9 years ago

      How true...we have to take responsibility for our own happiness or forever we will be waiting...