Monday 21 October 2019

Dear Mary: I love my husband but he's struggling in the bedroom

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Mary O’Conor

I have been with my husband for over 20 years and we have three beautiful children. He is a wonderful father and works so very hard to take care of us.

Over the last couple of years I find that I am no longer attracted to him. I do love him but am no longer in love with him. I feel more of a friendship towards him.

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We have struggled for many years in the bedroom and this is where I feel a lot of the issues stem from. I have a very high sex drive and he unfortunately does not.

We have at times gone for months without intimacy which has been so difficult. To be honest for the past number of years even when we do have sex I have not enjoyed it.

Despite being together for so long, he does not know my body. Sex is all over the place, over very quickly and leaves me feeling lacking and incredibly unsatisfied. I have suggested a sex therapist to which he point blank refuses.

I have tried to explain things that I like and things that I don't like. He takes it as a criticism, gets very angry and upset, which I can understand, but I believe if I am uncomfortable with something, I have a right to say so and vice versa.

It turned out that both of us have strayed from the relationship. Myself only recently and he, it seems, for a larger portion of our marriage, although I don't obviously know what transpired.

I feel I strayed because I am missing such a big portion of my marriage and I am looking for that void to be filled. It also showed me how much I am missing and how enjoyable sex can be. However, the guilt I feel is unreal and I don't want to do this any longer.

I fear that I may stray again and if I don't am I destined for a lifetime of unhappiness in the bedroom and a lack of fulfilment?

I desperately need your advice.

Mary replies: Thank you for your email and for highlighting an issue that I'm sure will resonate with a lot of people. Their stories will all be slightly different to yours, but they will be unhappy because of the lack of a satisfying sexual life.

Very often couples have differing sex drives. The perception used to be that men were always up for it and always had a higher libido, but in recent years that myth has been dispelled. Women in lots of cases have an extremely healthy sexual appetite and quite rightly feel justified in wanting to have their needs met. As always compromise is needed.

In your own case you seem to have done everything that you can do. You spoke to your husband and voiced your unhappiness, you suggested therapy and you tried to explain what you really like sexually.

You then went outside the marriage, which let you see what you were missing, but the guilt was such that you don't want to go down that route again.

After 20 years together, I would not expect your sex life to be as exciting as it was at the beginning, but it should be satisfying enough for both of you not to have to look elsewhere.

Regarding your husband's 'straying' you don't tell me whether it is an affair, in which case there is an emotional element as well, or if he has been having sex with somebody without any other involvement. In any event while that continues, there is little hope of you getting your sexual difficulties sorted out because he will not have the impetus to change things.

You both have three choices. You can keep going as you are, you can seek help in order to change things, or you can separate.

Obviously finding ways to change is by far the best option, and for that to happen you and your husband will have to communicate openly regarding the sexual problems you have been having.

It sounds from what you say that he has some form of premature ejaculation and that may be part of the reason for your discontent. This can be treated in a number of ways, ideally through sex therapy, but as he is so opposed to this then he should read the excellent book by Barry McCarthy Coping with Premature Ejaculation: How to overcome PE, Please your Partner and have Great Sex. I'm sure you will be very tactful in bringing up the subject and recommending the book - he will naturally be very sensitive about all of this as you have already discovered. You will have to point out to him that failing to do anything about your problem is having a disastrous effect on your relationship and let him see how serious you are about it all.

It may be that he would agree to seek help for the relationship in general through couples counselling as he may find the idea of sex therapy too threatening.

If so that would also be of benefit and in time the sexual area of your lives could be examined and ways found to change things.

As you can see, it is all about change, and without that, things will stagnate and leave you feeling exactly as you describe - unhappy and unfulfilled.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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