Monday, May 4, 2009

The Times UK: We're married, with kids, but my wife doesn't want sex with me

From The Times

May 5, 2009

We're married, with kids, but my wife doesn't want sex with me

We have raised two children, we hardly ever argue and are a happy family, but there is one major thing missing

Professor Tanya Byron

Dear Tanya

My wife and I have been married for ten years and have two fabulous children, aged 8 and 5. My wife stays at home and her days consist of the school run, gym, college (once a week), dealing with the kids and running the house. I work five days a week but see the children before I leave in the morning and read them a story at bedtime.

At weekends we do things as a family. As a couple we rarely argue, we spend our evenings talking, eating and watching TV. But there is one area about which there is little discussion or activity — our sex life.

We make love about three of four times a year and it tends to be a disappointment. When we do it's usually after a night out or a weekend away. My attempts to talk about it have been dismissed. The final straw was when we snuggled up on the sofa and I gently kissed my wife on the neck only to be flicked away like some irritating insect. How can I rekindle a physical relationship?


A waning sex life is an issue faced by many couples after a few years of marriage, having children and running busy lives. You are clearly a good team when it comes to keeping life on track and raising happy children. In many ways your relationship sounds very comfortable — few arguments and nights together watching TV — but that may, in part, be the problem. It is all too easy to fall into a pattern that leaves little room for other, more spontaneous and exciting communication, verbal or physical.

For many women, sex and sexual feelings change once they have children. At the start of your relationship, sex was all about passion. Sex then becomes about reproduction — for some women this is relatively easily achieved, for others getting pregnant is difficult and can become stressful. Couples with fertility issues often need counselling to shift from a mechanised perception of sex — an act that is done at certain times of the month to ensure conception — back to one that is loving, passionate and spontaneous.

You do not say what your wife did before having children, but for many women choosing to be a full-time mother is a pleasure and also a big shift of identity. While there is no doubt that our children are our greatest achievements, some women struggle with what they see as the lack of stimulation or autonomy that can come with being a full-time mum.

Motherhood is about nurturing, with the sole focus being one's offspring. Male partners can feel neglected — because they have taken second place in their partner's lives and affections. Some women I have worked with have referred to their partner as an "additional child". I was reminded of this when you described being "flicked away" — your actions in that moment, although loving and sensitive, may, to your wife, have felt like an additional demand on her after an emotionally and physically draining day.

But this does not mean that it's not possible to regain a sexual relationship within a marriage. What it means is that this needs to be done slowly and sensitively — almost as if starting over.

Many women describe how they avoid displays of affection because they feel it will give the green light to full-blown sex, which is not what they were after. I think this is an important point — you and your wife need to agree that any affection or intimacy does not mean an inevitable journey towards intercourse. Agree not to have sex but just to focus for a while on holding, cuddling and kissing.

By doing this you give your wife some power and control in the relationship but also give her non-threatening space and time for her to build arousal in a way that is relaxed. As you progress towards increased sexual contact, make sure it is done with consent and take a back seat, allowing your wife to be in charge — this will be very arousing for you both. Make sexual contact the last activity in this slow process of rediscovery. For more on this sensate focus technique go to the British Association of Sexual and Relationship Therapy website: pdf/sensate_focus.pdf .

It is possible that passion in your relationship is suffering because of deeper psychological issues that need to be confronted. If so, contact Relate (0300 1001234; ). However, it appears to me that you and your wife are clearly friends and have a good partnership. It may be that, in building this, you have lost your connection as lovers. To get it back you need to look at where you are in your lives, who you are and how different roles have competing demands on the many complex strands of your relationship. Becoming lovers is about time and space together, time to flirt — look at how you can schedule dates into your busy lives.

Crucially, reflect on whether your wife feels attractive and physically confident. Childbirth changes bodies and many women can find it a challenge to see their post-childbirth body as one that is sexually attractive. You can support her by looking at ways to surprise her with small gifts or gestures — ones that are for her as the woman you love and fancy, not just the mother of your children.

If you have a family problem, e-mail

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