Tell Me About It: ‘My wife was sexually assaulted two years ago’
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Q For the first three years of our 12-year-marriage my wife was depressed and quite violent when she mixed medication and drink. This passed, and we now have four wonderful children. But things slowed down in the bedroom to the point that I think we had sex only four times last year.
About two years ago she was sexually assaulted, and this has had a serious impact despite counselling. She claims she still loves me but is constantly tired and not in the mood. She now stays up later than me or goes to bed early, I suspect, to avoid any approach being made.
I’ve remained faithful, and she is a wonderful mother, swears that she is not interested in anyone else and that she loves me, and thinks I am a great husband and father. But I don’t want to be doomed to the next 40 years’ having no sexual intimacy.
Am I being greedy or should I be happy for what I have got?
A “The first three years my wife was depressed and quite violent . . . About two years ago she was sexually assaulted.” Traumatic stuff, and you must be feeling both concerned and frustrated dealing with her feelings while keeping your sexuality in check.
Your wife is exhausted, but you suspect she is using the demands – and the escape from adult relationships – that motherly love affords to sidestep your needs. Yet you have stood by her during stressful times that, you suspect, counselling hasn’t solved.
Andrew Marshall, a psychotherapist, often sees people who’ve had counselling for the emotional impact of sexual assault but have been given no help about returning to being sexual with their loving partner. “Frequently, their partner has not had the chance to talk about his upset, either, and his fears of upsetting or hurting his partner,” he says.
When walking on eggshells with your wife, an affair may be tempting.
Your mutual respect for one another stops you. Despite dealing with depression, motherhood and then sexual assault, your wife is a “wonderful mother”, which shows how well she has coped.
But your bottom line is different from hers, it seems. To be happy you need sex. She doesn’t seem to, or is repressing that need.
“Nobody should be pressured into having sex they don’t want, but at the same time nobody should have to do without the sex they do want,” says Marshall, who has written several self-help books about sexual relationships.
“What’s important is that you talk about it rather than avoiding the topic – by sneaking up to bed late. Unfortunately, sex is really difficult to talk about, especially with your partner, as it can easily come across as criticism. So it is really important that you address everything in the positive: ‘I love you, and I really enjoy it when we make love. How is it for you?’ ”
You need to find out why sex has become more difficult for you as a couple. Maybe it is just tiredness on the part of your wife, in which case she may need more support with the children and in the kitchen. Just a thought.
You seem to have fallen into an all-or-nothing trap, where each of you stays on your side of the bed – for other people this may even mean staying out of the bed entirely – for fear of sending wrong signals.
“But kissing and cuddling, as a joy in its own right, without leading to sex, may still be possible if you can find a way of suggesting this,” says Marshall, whose book Make Love Like a Prairie Vole has a step-by-step guide to becoming intimate again.
Sex in a marriage seems to become more difficult as time goes on for many reasons: boredom, repressed anger, psychological issues, fatigue.
Couples counselling could also help, but you must let go of feeling “greedy” and “doomed” to 40 years in the sexual desert.
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