Q: I have had an issue with gambling on and off for a long time. I agreed to give it up but have slipped a few times over the years. My fiancée gave me enough chances and I knew what I was doing was wrong.
Whenever she asked me, I confessed straight away, and she has been questioning our relationship ever since the last time earlier this year. I think that the thrill was why I did it, because I have a much higher sex drive than she does and she has all the control in our sex life. We have argued about sex for so long, but I don’t think she will ever change.
She’s overweight, hates the way she looks, won’t let me see her naked, will only have sex in the dark, but I find her very attractive and try to build her confidence by complimenting her, but she disagrees with everything I say.
She refuses to perform oral sex or anything adventurous, but I’m used to that now. If she does decide to leave me, she will also take our kids, who are my world.
We are kind of opposites, I don’t drink but she loves nights out, I’m into fitness but she’s not very active, I’m laid back but she’s very dramatic. I love her and the kids more than anything. Your opinion on this would be greatly appreciated.
Dr West replies: I know I say it a lot, but couples counselling is absolutely going to help you here. You need to have some big conversations, and it sounds like there are years of built-up tension that won’t be undone in a short time.
You will both have to decide if you are going to carry on as you are, split up, or work together to help the relationship get to a healthy and happy place. It sounds like you would like the last option, so it is time to ask her to consider going to couples counselling together, and explain that while you still love her, there are some issues that cannot be ignored any longer.
You do say that you give her compliments — which is great, but it doesn’t appear to be working. Perhaps your partner speaks a different love language to you. For you, giving compliments is speaking about your love, but her love language might be acts of service, quality time, or even non-sexual physical touch. Asking her what affection looks like to her may offer an opportunity for you both to feel seen and heard when showing love to each other.
People do show love in different ways and there may be a mismatch in how it is interpreted, which is why being clear is essential in asking how she would like to be shown love. You can also tell her what works for you, and then you can begin to rebuild the emotional intimacy between you.
Many women struggle with confidence and body issues after having children, and if the births were difficult, she may have some trauma from them which impacts her feelings around sex and her body.
The space you create in counselling will allow for her to talk about any feelings she has around her body, and perhaps explore the kind of intimacy that she would like to experience. Her sex drive will have also been impacted by pregnancy, childbirth, and energy levels so finding compassionate ways to help her reconnect with her body would be a loving thing to do.
If you break up and are separated from your children, you do have several options. You can arrange informal custody between yourselves or take the legal route.
It does not have to mean you don’t get to see them again. Children can often pick up on the vibes in an unhappy household, and this can be a huge source of stress. Check in with them to see how they are doing and make sure they have some one-on-one time with you to talk.
Opposites can and do attract, but they can also drift apart due to not having shared interests. This could be an opportunity to find those shared interests that can help rebuild intimacy between you. Try out new activities that you can do together, and even if you don’t find something you both can obsess over, you can learn more about each other in the process. The activities can become date nights away from the kids.
Some sex education books or online classes might help open up conversations about your sex life and ways to improve it. It is hard to have quality adult time away from children, but if you make it a priority it can work.
Call on favours from family and friends to get babysitters and go out for dinner. Taking any expectation of sex off the table will remove pressure and allow you to reconnect with each other again. Talk about the early days of what brought you together and share loving memories of special moments. That sets a loving framework to discussions about your future and allows you to start difficult conversations with softness rather than anger.
Addiction can have many sources and can impact anyone at any point in their lives. It can be a surface symptom of trauma or unresolved issues. Organisations such as Gamblers Anonymous Ireland can offer ongoing support; you can find groups in different parts of the country listed on gamblersanonymous.ie.
It would be advisable to engage with your own counselling around this too, as it will be a protected space to explore the reasons behind your gambling, and to understand the impact it can have on the family.
You have to decide what is sustainable for your overall wellness, and it sounds like you want to put the work in. This will need to be teamwork, supported by open conversations and compassion. It may be difficult to start, but the journey holds the potential for true happiness together.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately