Saturday 23 February 2019

Ask Allison: 'My husband and I have fallen out of the habit of having sex. Can you give me some advice on starting things up again?'

Our resident psychologist answers your queries about sex and relationships

'A sex drought is very common'
'A sex drought is very common'

Allison Keating

Q My husband and I have fallen out of the habit of having sex. We had three kids in quick succession and after the last one - who is now 18 months old - we just stopped having sex through circumstance. He is a very clingy baby and sleeps with me in our bed. It is a small enough double, so my husband moved into the spare room. It is now the status quo. It kind of suits us both as we are so busy with full-time jobs, etc. I know this sounds insane but I am a bit shy about trying to get it all started up again. We refer to the drought only in arguments. Can you give me some advice on starting things up again?

Allison replies: A sex drought is very common. On one hand it gave you three wonderful children and it also took away your time, energy and mojo to even want to have sex, and that's fair enough - so let's just start with the facts. The fact is that you are both exhausted. Sex and exhaustion are two unsexy words that don't go well together in a sentence.

The first thing to do is to get the baby out of your bed. Your husband chose to sleep with you long before the baby did. Of course, the baby wants to sleep with you. To break this sleep routine create a new one; this will probably be painful for a while but it needs to happen. Give the 18-month-old some extra time in the day, even 15 minutes of focused one-on-one attention. As you mentioned, your youngest is clingy, so building in connected time during the day will build up that sense of comfort. No easy feat when you have three small children - trust me, I understand.

I imagine these connected moments like filling up their little happy tanks. It usually works a treat and can help to regulate emotions and change their emotional thermostat from clingy to content.

Sit down today and plan a new bedtime routine. Consistency, routine and sheer perseverance will help you in this transition. If it doesn't work after a period of sustained time and effort, enrol a sleep therapist.

Of course you feel uncomfortable about starting to be intimate again. Not only is this perfectly normal, it's something that needs to be talked about more.

Motherhood changes you on every level. It's figuring out a new identity of being a mum and seeing that there are other parts that make up who you are, and that they are separate and yet still part of the same person. I have found many mothers have an identity crisis and personal and body confidence can plummet, not just after having a child, but for years after when they just don't feel like their old self.

Perhaps, begin to play around with how you would like to be? Playfulness is sexy. This is not to feel any pressure, too many photos of perfect post-baby bodies make a lot of women feel disgust and shame at their body when they compare.

Next ask yourself 'how can I fall back in love with my body?' Claim your body back - bring it for a walk, have a nice long shower on your own, nourish yourself with a lovely bath, ones you wouldn't share with the kids or your husband. Find some time for you.

Get your husband to do the same, not using your scented shower gel but for him to have some head-space. Fill up your own tanks first. This will require sitting down and chatting through how this will come to be. And yes, be strategic, it's the only way it will happen.

Have the sex conversation. You choose when this conversation will work best for you both - it could be going for a walk, at the kitchen table or out to dinner on your own. The fact that the sex drought is only being brought in angrily to arguments shows it needs to be given some air time. Feelings of rejection and hurt may exist for both of you.

Before you have the conversation, you could give him a heads up and ask him how he feels about it. If he's up for it, ask him to write it out. You do the same. Then, when you come together, you can have a really good and open conversation.

Rebuilding intimacy is a daunting task. The talking part will be the hard bit, the rest will come more naturally. Start the conversation showing your good intent and love for him. Say 'I miss you, 'I miss us' 'I miss being with you'.

The psychology of desire is to feel wanted by another. Feeling wanted by your husband or wife is sexy. Connect, talk, be open about how you are both feeling. You have already done the hard part - now have a desire to come back to each other. Enjoy re-connecting.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

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