Tuesday 24 April 2018

Dear Mary: I love my wife but our marriage is almost sexless... I'm dreading what our life together will become

Couple in bed
Couple in bed
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

What I'm about to write is something I've seen many times in newspapers and magazines. Now the shoe is on the other foot. In a sense, I can't believe I'm actually writing this.

My wife and I are in our mid to late fifties. We are married over 30 years and our adult children are grown up. My wife is a great mother and grandmother, in fact she is a role model for others. We both work full time and both jobs are busy and demanding. We take regular holidays and breaks to get quality time together.

My wife is a very attractive woman, dresses well, looks after her appearance, is socially confident, outgoing, and well-liked and admired by both her female and male friends. To outsiders, we appear to be a happy couple which we generally are, and my wife gives off the aura of having a happy sex life.

Behind the scenes at home it's a different story. She has had a lower requirement for sex over recent years. Typically, we had sex once every two to three months, and that is only if I make all of the running. Every so often she would surprise me and initiate it, but that would have been a rare event. On the other hand, I like sex. It allows me to demonstrate my love for her. I was so looking forward to resuming a reasonable sex life.

She has or is going through the later stages of the menopause. It's hard to tell whether it is over in the medical sense. Her doctor ok'd her to resume unprotected sex earlier this year on the basis that her last period was twelve months previous, and the risk of pregnancy was negligible. I had the expectation that we would resume a reasonably normal sex life and have regular sex, maybe once a week or at worst once a fortnight. When we had sex in recent years she appeared to enjoy it, or at least that is how it appears to me. All seemed to go OK at first but now it's back to the two months-plus again. Lately, it looks like it may even extend longer.

It has become almost impossible for her to talk about sex. We can talk about almost everything else. When the topic comes to sex, it gets closed down quickly or I'm accused of pressuring her. Generally I get a 'fob off' answer like 'maybe next weekend' but a casual examination of her social calendar and weekend appointments tells me that it is unlikely, and generally that turns out to be the case.

She has close family members who are not well, and for whom she is genuinely concerned. She has a tendency to internalise others' issues and become emotionally involved. That is most likely a contributing factor. Some of our adult children are back living at home and the reduction in our privacy, that we might have expected to have in our fifties, has suddenly evaporated.

Normally, I would be able to work out what needs to be done to remedy or improve the situation, but I'm failing big time in this situation.

I love my wife very much. This is starting to eat away at me as I can clearly see where this is all leading and that isn't a very welcome prospect. I would never contemplate doing anything that would end our relationship. But I am starting to dread what our life together will ultimately become.

Mary replies: You have given me a very clear picture of how things are for you and have listed possibly all the contributory factors which result in your lack of sex. No doubt many readers will be feeling that you have accurately described their own situation, although they haven't personally written to me. Even the adult children being back at home, and therefore somewhat inhibiting, will be the case for many couples.

How often a couple have sex is their own business as long as both partners are happy, and this is patently not the case with you. However, the big positive I take from your letter is that when you do have it your wife enjoys herself. So this is what you should capitalise on - remind her that once she gets involved it is actually quite pleasurable.

I often suggest to couples that they take turns in being in charge of their sex life and take it week by week. So wife is in charge for week one and husband for week two. In the week that you are in charge you can ask for what you want as often as you wish and the spouse has to agree - obviously within reason! There must be no criticism or refusal to do as requested and this works both ways. So if your wife were not to ask for anything during her week you would not complain or find fault with that. On the other hand she may feel like asking for a foot or full body massage or some non-genital touching. You signed your letter 'brother and sister rather than husband and wife' so bear in mind that anything that a brother and sister would not do should be considered sexual.

You will need to persevere when talking to your wife and explain how you feel. I can see that you love her very dearly and do not want to jeopardize your marriage, but something needs to change in order to ensure that the relationship is not damaged. A colleague once remarked that making love is like making brown bread - sometimes it turns out better than others but it is always good for you - and they were indeed wise words.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie 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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