Q We have been married for 20 years and are in our 40s. We had a lot of infertility issues and to be blunt, sex was not part of our baby-making years and it never came back afterwards. Our youngest has now started school and I have no intention of leaving the marriage, even though there are other issues, not enough to break up a family. Is it possible to rekindle some sort of intimacy? How would you even start?
Start with yourself, give yourself space where you can ask some important questions that will need time, and reflection. How are you feeling? It’s a simple question but one that will hold a lot of answers of where you are currently at.
From what you have said above, it seems you are feeling disconnected with your husband, do you also feel disconnected to yourself? There is a heavy toll from many years of intense physical and emotional stress that comes with infertility and everything that goes with that from the impact of planned sexual intercourse to the many trials, tribulations and the pain of infertility and the many subsequent treatments. Did you ever talk with anyone yourself or together about how this affected you, and you as a couple?
Let’s leave discussing sex until the end. The physical act of sex is not going to heal the emotional impact of what has caused you to want to stay apart from each other.
It can be quite common that a sexual stalemate can be a way of consciously or unconsciously getting back at your partner if you are angry or upset with them. Choosing to stop having sex can feel easier than facing into hard conversations that bring up fear and vulnerability. Exploring what this has all meant to you and how you feel about your husband is part of the attraction piece.
If we think about attraction it is a desire to want to be near someone, to want to touch them and feel close. These intense feelings of desire have a prerequisite of liking them as a person. Even though anger is portrayed as a sexy idea for ‘make-up’ sex the reality is, if you feel abandoned, hurt or resentment towards your partner, sex is going to be the last thing on your mind.
The act of sex communicates that you are getting on well. Attraction comes back to how attractive you feel in yourself and feeling that you are desired, wanted and loved. You said that you have no intention of leaving the marriage, what you need to explore is why, and what the other issues you mentioned are. Write each one down and how it is impacting you and how you feel about your husband and marriage.
Social exchange theory looks at explaining the costs and benefits of why people stay in long-term relationships. Specifically, why women choose to stay in a sexless marriage, as the cost of being alone or ‘breaking up a family’ doesn’t outweigh the benefits of being out of that relationship.
Connecting back to your emotions and your physical body are a good starting point. How do you mind your own sexual health? What can you do if you need to work on how you think and feel about yourself in relation to yourself and your body?
This is more than self-care, it is about being physically present with uncomfortable and intense feelings and softening it by using your senses to connect back to yourself physically, emotionally and mentally. Ask yourself how you can do this, how can you meet your own emotional and physical needs? Writing out your five senses and what you can do that is soothing for you can be very helpful.
A common thing we used to hear at weddings was ‘today I married my best friend’. Finding ways to notice the good in each other can help getting back to liking each other. Notice the good things he does and say it back to him. Sometimes couples can feel awkward, inauthentic and nearly shy when they have had a long period of feeling disconnected to start bringing the warmth back in. Bringing intimacy back in, starts with warm thoughts, warm words and warm actions.
What used to make you feel like a couple, what was special about your relationship can be a really cathartic and healing conversation to have. It is about building and intentionally remembering that sense of ‘we-ness’ that made your relationship feel special and unique to the two of you. This bonding is glue in relationships, it’s so easy to get lost and disconnected. Sometimes it’s just remembering who you were and seeing if you can be like that, or a different version of that. Life changes relationships, the goal isn’t to go back to the attraction you felt before but it’s remembering why you did like each other and giving some intentional attention to bringing that back into your daily lives.
If undertones of irritability, criticism and feeling generally unliked by each other are present, it is going to dull any feelings of desire.
Another sexual fallacy is somewhat similar to the idea of being motivated to want to exercise, you may feel too tired to do it but you are always glad when you do it. Bringing a connection or date night with no pressure of sex but just to talk and be with each other, is another good starting point.
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