Tell Me About It: I feel I’m depriving my husband of sex

I’ve never had a huge interest in sex, but it’s as if, since having children, sexual interest has gone altogether

Illustration: Thinkstock

Illustration: Thinkstock

Tue, Feb 11, 2014, 01:00

Q After 14 years of marriage, we’re in our late 30s with three young children. Over the last seven years, since we had our first child, we have had sex only a handful of times. We have very busy lives with work and the usual domestic duties.

For a while my husband would try to encourage me to have sex, but my heart wasn’t in it. Even when we did have sex, it wasn’t very satisfying for either of us. After a couple of years of this he accepted the sexless nature of our relationship, but I know in my heart this is not a healthy situation.

We have a loving relationship otherwise – we share emotionally and we enjoy each other’s company. I’ve never had a huge interest in sex, although when we were first together I did enjoy it more than any other sexual relationship I’d been in. But it’s as if, since having children, that sexual interest has gone altogether.

I feel bad though, mostly for him, because I’m depriving him of something that I know is important, maybe crucial, in a healthy relationship. And I worry that, having got to this point, there is no way back.

A If you talk about this with your friends who have children, you’ll probably find that many are in the same predicament. Those Valentine’s Day chocs and red roses may seem like going through the motions when passion is dormant.

“Couples with young families are experiencing this problem more than ever before. So much has to be packed into one day now that there is scant time left over for a couple to have time alone together, let alone have sex,” says Teresa Bergin, a psychotherapist specialising in sexuality.

It was in this context that I picked up on the surprising results of research into the happiness of 5,000 couples by the Open University. Couples without children were found to be happier than couples with children, which seems counterintuitive, considering that infertility is so upsetting for so many.

Reading on, I saw that women in childless couples were less happy, but their men were happier, making the couple happier overall.

Maybe a relationship based on intimacy and sex is happier than one where parenting becomes the focus. But what choice have you got when you’re working all day, then coming home to do a second shift of domestic duties, where staying awake long enough to brush your teeth is a challenge?

“When you no longer have the space to experience each other as intimate partners and lovers, it can become increasingly difficult to be sexual, and anxiety about how to resume sex can set in quickly. Women, in particular, can experience a decrease in libido if the regularity of sexual contact lessens,” says Bergin.

It sounds like you are feeling guilty, but it’s important not to see this as one person’s fault. You’re not “depriving” your husband. There are two of you in this, and together you can find the way back.

Bergin advises you to find time as a couple, even once a week, to be alone. If you can’t afford a date night, try for some couple time after the children have gone to bed. Giving each other a massage, or sharing a bath, can help you experience the closeness you once had.

“With regular, planned time together you may, in time, find it easier to return to a pattern of being sexual,” says Bergin.

Like most working mothers, you’re probably feeling not only sleep-deprived, but deprived of exercise, social life, “me time”, pampering and self-care. When was the last time someone looked after you? You used to enjoy your sexual relationship, so you’re missing out on that too.

Ask your husband for the nurturing you feel you need to feel physically whole again – whatever that may be. Men tend to think wine and roses, but if you’d get turned on by him tackling the ironing for a week, ask for that. If he needs sex to feel cared for and loved, what do you need?

If you take only one thing from this, it would be: stop feeling like you are the one responsible for this situation.

This isn’t simply a matter of him performing and you being willing. Having some time off from motherly duties to feel like a sensual woman again will leave your body rested enough to enjoy something as simple as a caress, which could lead to more in time.

Email questions to tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com or contact Kate on Twitter, @kateholmquist. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into

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Róisín Meets...Dawn O'Porter

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