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‘My wife has not wanted sex for 10 years’

Dear Roe: ‘My lovely wife has a tiny belly and never wants me to see her body’

Dear Roe,
My wife and I have been married since the mid-1990s and have two gorgeous children. Now, my lovely wife has a tiny little belly after our children’s births, though she’s not fat at all. She has not wanted to have sex with me for more than 10 years. She never allows me to see her body but I love her the way she is. What to do? I’m desperate!

The bad news is that there’s no magic wand I can tell you to wave so that your wife’s body image and sex drive will suddenly improve. Those are two issues that only your wife can truly understand, and take steps to work on – and then, that will happen only if she wants it to.

But you can absolutely open up a conversation about these issues and how they’re affecting your relationship, and you need to. Your wife is emotionally and physically refusing to be intimate with you, apparently because of her negative body image, and it’s now having a palpable effect on your relationship.

Ten years of not acting interested in sex is a long time, and may not be entirely based on her body image

Start by assuring her that you find her beautiful and are still attracted to her, and that you want to be more intimate with her. Ask her how she feels about how you two are currently interacting and your sex life, and listen to her answer.

Ten years of not acting interested in sex is a long time, and may not be entirely based on her body image. Does she feel emotionally connected to you, or does that need to be where you start? Is she still attracted to you? Does she want to reclaim your sex life? These are difficult questions to ask, but they need to be addressed.

Then ask her about her body image and if there’s anything you can do to help her feel more comfortable and attractive. This could include complimenting her more – about her appearance or more generally about her person, so that she feels appreciated in every way.

If she wants to do something to help her feel more connected to her body (going to the gym, yoga, meditation, having the occasional spa day), offer to help her do that, whether that involves helping her so she has more free time or offering to organise.

Or are there ways that her life could feel more exciting and fulfilling in general? Our self-image can be improved if we feel happier, more confident and more excited by life, as we value ourselves and our lives beyond appearances.

Her journey to body positivity could be helped through therapy, and your shared journey to reconnection with each other could also benefit from couples counselling, so raise these as positive and potentially beneficial opportunities that you’re willing to support, and participate in.

Her body gave birth to your two gorgeous children. And she now thinks less of her own body, not more? Isn't that horribly sad

If she doesn’t want to try therapy, it might be worth talking about her body image and self-acceptance in terms of the example you want to set for your children. I’m sure it would break your wife’s heart if either of your children grew up believing their self-worth was dependent on what their body looks like, so she could try to be as loving and accepting to herself as she hopes they are.

Or ask her to re-imagine her body not in terms of aesthetics, but what it has done, the life that it has provided for your family – both figuratively and literally. Her body hasn’t just allowed you two to enjoy every memory you have together as a couple, it gave birth to your two gorgeous children. And she now thinks less of her own body, not more? Isn’t that horribly sad, that we have taught women that their bodies are more valuable and desirable as passive objects than for what they can do? Ask her if she’s willing to try acknowledging and appreciating her body for the wondrous things it has done, instead of disliking it because it has evidence of that change.

Feeling loved

Finally, underscore that her not loving herself is not only stopping you from loving her the way you want to, but it’s also stopping you from feeling loved, as she withholds physical affection and vulnerability from you. And that’s important. I will not be making a habit of quoting RuPaul in this column, for many reasons, but one of his maxims holds very true: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

For a relationship to be healthy and fulfilling, you have to be able to be intimate and vulnerable with each other. And that starts with owning your own individual vulnerabilities – hers with her body, yours with how the lack of physical affection in your relationship is affecting you.

Talking about these issues together is the first step towards being intimate and vulnerable with each other. And now is the time to start.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe

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