Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.
Question: I am sure you have responded to this type of problem before, but I would appreciate your advice please. My husband and I have been married for 10 years, we have busy lives with work, young kids etc.
I would really like to spend time with my husband as a couple, and go for a meal etc and just spend a couple of hours chatting. My husband prefers to spend his 'down time' going to the local pub for a few drinks and talking to his friends about sport and work. We can go for a couple of months without having any sexual contact. He says he is tired, but I know that he spends time late at night watching porn and masturbating.
I have countless conversations with him in my head where I articulate my unhappiness, but in real life he brushes me off and we never have these conversations. I am very unhappy but stuck in a rut and feel needy and pathetic. To the outside world I am sure we look fine and play the part of a normally functioning couple, but this can't be normal - is it?
Or am I expecting life to be a bed of roses - as my husband says when I complain?
Mary replies: It doesn't matter if I have replied previously to a similar type of problem - as far as I am concerned, every story is quite unique, and deserves to be treated as such.
Every relationship needs to be worked on, otherwise it stagnates and then one or other of the couple becomes unhappy with how things are. There are ups and downs in everybody's life, but at the core of every family (with or without children) there should be a united couple who are watching out for and supporting each other. They should also listen to each other, and when one partner is upset they should try to see how they can change things in order to deal with whatever is causing friction. Otherwise, the problem festers and grows, sometimes out of all proportion, and it is then very difficult to see a way forward
I can fully understand your husband wanting to switch off by going to the pub with his friends and having 'man time'. But it should not be at the expense of your relationship. There should also be date nights, either outside the home or inside, when it is just the two of you catching up over a meal or a drink, or both. Even going for a walk together is a great time to chat and find out what is going on in each other's lives. So his nights with the guys should not mean that there is then no time for you because both of his worlds should not be mutually exclusive.
Very often when couples are together for a couple of hours, without interruption from the outside world, they are reminded how much they like each other's company and what it was that attracted them to each other in the first place. This can then lead on to the sexual intimacy which appears to be lacking in your case.
I can understand that your husband may be tired but he cannot always be tired, and certainly if he is watching porn late at night then it seems he is using this as a substitute for a sexual life with you. This cannot continue, and it is up to you to stand your ground. However, instead of just complaining that you never go out together or that you rarely make love, try telling him how it makes you feel to be like this. Starting a sentence with "I feel very unloved" or "I feel very lonely because we never get to spend time together/rarely make love anymore" is far less threatening to him than "You never make time for me" or "You hardly ever make love to me" and will therefore not end in an argument but will hopefully let him see how all of this is affecting you.
Don't be put off by excuses or by being told that you are unreasonable because you are perfectly entitled to expect both his company on occasions and a sex life together.
No life is a bed of roses all the time, but you should be able to at least smell the roses occasionally, which doesn't seem to be happening now.
He has gone off with an older man
Question: I am a gay male in my 60s, living with my male partner for a number of years. I have known him for well over a decade and he is younger than I am. We never had any big problems - just the ordinary things. We bought a flat between us abroad - he is foreign. He had two affairs, both short-lived but I forgave him.
At the start of our lives together, he was the emotionally weak one: he cried and cried when I came back home having been away on business for a week or two. I brought him with me sometimes. Emotionally, he became very strong and now I am the weak one. Last week, he said he was moving in with a new man he had met two months previously. It has knocked me out completely, and I cannot continue to function. He wants me to stay in the flat and meet someone else, but that is not on. I do not have the energy to do anything and my health is suffering. I cannot think, eat or sleep. I am a total shambles.
His new man is 80. He says he wants to spend the rest of his life with him but he told me the same when we met. I do not know where to turn or what to do. Please help
Mary replies: It sounds like you are in total shock, as anybody would be if a partner of many years suddenly announced they had found somebody else. What you are going through is quite normal, so try not to be too despairing. People who have had big shocks very often speak of the time immediately afterwards as being a complete blur. It's as if the subconscious is trying to deny that the event has actually happened. You are showing all these symptoms and are probably going over and over the last few months to see if you could have done things differently and therefore stopped him from going. If so, try to understand that this was a choice that he made so do not blame yourself for a single thing.
You are no doubt thinking that at your age you shouldn't have to be going through all this, and indeed it is sometimes harder to lose somebody through separation than through death, as there is not even the ritual of the funeral and the sympathy of friends and family to help deal with the loss.
There is a huge age gap between your partner and this new man - almost twice as much as there was between the two of you. I'm inclined to think that it won't last for very long between them because of this, but even if it finishes you have probably been hurt once too often for it ever to re-ignite between you. So my advice for the moment is to do nothing - just get used to the idea that he has gone and take it one day at a time.
You need to grieve and that in itself is a difficult thing to do. There is no quick or easy way through it, and it takes a lot of time so I do hope that you have at least one close friend who can be there for you.
I am unsure from your mail whether you are living in Ireland or abroad, but remember that the Samaritans are always available 24 hours a day to speak on the telephone and it always helps to talk things through. They won't be offering any solutions, but they will be there to listen.
The phone number of the Samaritans in Ireland is 116123 and the organisation operates elsewhere too. Your world has turned upside down, but please believe me that although things will never be the same again you will slowly get used to the idea that he has gone and hopefully you will get on with living.
You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at email@example.com 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.