Sex ‘chore’ that is ruining my marriage
Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au's weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred. This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie tackles a man considering desperate measures to get some sex, a boyfriend seeking advice on a risqué gift and a man who chooses the gym over his wife.
THE SEX CHORE I CAN'T GET OVER
QUESTION: I have been married for 10 years now and in my early 30s. Alongside my wife and our two little ones we make a lovely family.
Before we had kids our intimate life wasn't great but wasn't too bad either. My wife was just never really keen on that for whatever reason. I loved her and thought this is something we could overcome as a couple so I didn't stress too much on it.
On all three occasions (our first was a miscarriage) when my wife got pregnant it usually meant no bed time for us until mostly 3-4 months pre-and-post-delivery. I understand it was a difficult time for her, both physically and emotionally, hence I fully supported her in that.
Now that our youngest has turned 1, it's been a good 4-5 years the spark has been missing from our bed. We do get to it sometimes once in a month (or twice if lucky) but even then it's like another chore among many.
Getting towards mid-30s, doing well in my career and family pretty settled, I feel like my body needs something more which I am not getting. So I decided to bring it up with her to understand her feelings and convey mine. However after repeated conversations, and an agreement that we'll try and make things better, nothing, unfortunately, has progressed.
She is a very closed person and doesn't talk to anyone about how she feels. So when I suggested that maybe we could see a therapist or counsellor, that idea didn't go down well with her either.
I got to a stage where I started thinking about fulfilling my needs outside of marriage but concluded it wasn't right for me and my family so I didn't pursue.
I don't want to walk away from marriage because I love my kids and it'll also be unfair for my wife who has given a lot to bring them into this life. But there is an increasing desire inside me which doesn't make me sleep well. What would you suggest I do?
ANSWER: I always feel sad when I hear one person voicing needs in a relationship and their partner seeming unwilling to address or meet that need.
Unfortunately I see this a lot in regard to sexual intimacy. One partner feels that it isn't important to them - or feels too uncomfortable to adequately address it - and the other misses out on an important need.
A loving, satisfying, mutually enjoyable sex life is a valid need in a relationship. It's understandable you want this for yourself. I'm sorry your attempts to address it haven't been very well met so far.
It's a common cycle that many couples find themselves in - they know that something needs to change, so they talk about it and say they'll do something, but nothing really happens.
It's often because they don't have the tools, the strategy or the support to make meaningful change. It can be difficult to address sex in a relationship. Most of us weren't taught how to talk about it, or about our sexual function beyond the biology of reproduction.
Broader issues such as connection, communication, intimacy and self-confidence are often connected to this, making it even more complex to deal with.
This is why a therapist is helpful. A therapist can guide you step by step to discover greater intimacy and overcome mismatched desire, giving you support and advice to keep moving forward in the process.
You have a couple of options here.
It's not unreasonable to think about fulfilling your needs outside of the marriage. This is something many people end up doing because they're not getting the intimacy (of various kinds) they want inside their relationship.
Some people actually credit this with saving their relationship. Having some of their needs met elsewhere, although it isn't ideal, sustains them enough that they can go without in their relationship.
You could also choose to bring it up with her again.
It takes the average couple seven years to seek help with relationship challenges. While I always wish couples would reach out sooner, the reality is that many hope the problem will just go away or feel that they should be able to address it by themselves.
When a problem feels overwhelming, wanting to bury our head in the sand can be a way of coping. Unfortunately, someone may not be aware of how bad things have become for their partner.
What I'm hearing is that you've at least considered getting your sexual needs met outside your marriage and the possibility of breaking up. I also hear that you don't actually want either of those options.
I'm not suggesting an ultimatum, but it may be helpful to tell her just how important this is to you and what the consequences of you not getting your needs in the relationship might be.
I'm guessing she feels a degree of shame around sex - that's usually what our discomfort around it is - and she possibly feels like she's letting you down as a wife because she's not "satisfying you". When you do raise this again, which you will, because it's important to you, be aware that she might be feeling hopeless, helpless and ashamed.
Stress to her that you value the relationship and want to make it better for both of you, which includes discovering more about her needs for intimacy also.
This isn't going to be something that you can just push aside and pretend doesn't exist for you. Our needs don't work that way. I've seen many couples who've struggled with mismatched desire for over 20 years.
It's really tough when one person isn't willing to take action on something that's important for their partner. I hope for your sake your partner is willing to work on this sooner rather than later.
CAN I GET MY NEW GIRLFRIEND SOME SEXY KNICKERS?
QUESTION: Is it inappropriate to give my new girlfriend sexy lingerie for Christmas? We haven't slept together yet, but obviously I would really like to. We have been dating for about two months, and a couple for two weeks.
ANSWER: There's an equal chance she could be really excited - or feel objectified and that you've actually bought a present for yourself.
What is your girlfriend like? How open is she about sex? Do you have much idea of what she likes when it comes to lingerie?
My thoughts: It's risky.
Unless you've had really open conversations about sex and what you both like, you could end up making her feel uncomfortable and buy her something she doesn't love.
This is your first Christmas together. What would you like her to look back on in a few years' time and remember about the gift you gave her?
You can always buy her both.
HOW CAN I MAKE MY HUSBAND LISTEN?
QUESTION: Is there a way to make my confrontation-averse husband actually talk about some of the issues in our relationship? Every time I try to bring up something thorny, he makes an excuse and goes to the gym. It's really starting to drive me crazy!
ANSWER: Is there a way to "make him"? No. But are there things you can do to make it easier for him and more likely that he'll engage? Yes.
Give him plenty of warning that you'd like to talk about it. Ask when a good time would be.
Try to understand why it's so hard for him to talk about. Ask what arises for him when you have difficult conversations.
Speak from "I" and voice your emotions and needs in a positive way. Don't go into blame or judgment of him.
Ultimately, you may need to be firmer about your need for open, honest communication.
If you have a question for Isiah, email firstname.lastname@example.org