Tell Me About It

My husband got angry when I suggested sex – we haven’t been intimate in 20 years

Tell Me About It: I think he has become comfortable in our relationship

PROBLEM:My husband and I have been married for 48 years and it has been mostly good. However, we have not had sex for the last 20. I have been obese for most of my life, so I was unattractive and snored a lot. He has slept in a different room.

He has stayed with me all this time and has always cared about me and treated me great despite this. I had weight-loss surgery a few years ago and lost 120lb (8st 8lb/54kg) and am slender and feeling well physically. I have retired recently, and he still works part time – I am 70 he is 71. We have been enjoying a lot of fun things together and enjoying ourselves.

I mentioned how it would be nice to have physical closeness as I feel emotionally connected with him. We spend a lot of time together. He got upset and mentioned about not sleeping together for 20 years, etc. He got angry at me for bringing up the subject saying he is not interested in me this way. He has been faithful to me. I think he has become comfortable in our relationship.

Is there any hope after this long a time?

ADVICE: Well done on getting healthy and feeling good about your body. It is great to know that, even at 70, our libidos can be alive and well. However, this surfacing of your libido is now a challenge to your relationship, and you and your husband have to include this in your relationship.

You said your husband was angry when you suggested sex and this needs to be explored as he has been silent for over 20 years and it seems he has repressed this need in himself. He may feel that he has sacrificed a huge amount in the interest of keeping his marriage safe and this may need to be acknowledged before he can consider intimacy again. His anger suggests that he feels strongly about this and burying it or not talking about it may not now work in your relationship as it did previously.

Would you consider going as a couple for therapy? This would help you both to engage with the big issues and have someone help you negotiate some of the no-go areas

Your awakening of desire is unlikely to abate as you continue to enjoy your vitality and so you owe it to yourself to push this conversation. It seems that you want your husband to be the focus of your desire and I wonder if he is aware of this and if he might enjoy that you consider him desirable and attractive. To uncover this possibility, you first have to hear him out regarding his anger and resentment, and this might be hard as it opens up areas of possible hurt and pain.

The fact that this conversation has not happened in 20 years means that you both have a habit of avoidance and this habit may be very hard to break. It is up to you to push for this intimate conversation: the risk here is that you get such pushback and refusal that you have to face a new and uncomfortable reality about your relationship, ie that the comfort zone of the last 20 years was based on not speaking about what is really happening.

This fact is now completely on the surface and neither of you can pretend that it has not happened so there is no going back to how it has been, and the lack of sex may be only one of many topics that you have both avoided. Would you consider going as a couple for therapy? This would help you both to engage with the big issues and have someone help you negotiate some of the no-go areas. Alternatively, maybe you could both read Alain de Botton’s book How to Think More About Sex as this might initiate the right kind of conversation – it is also very funny in parts and it might both enlighten and lighten up the discussion.

Have patience and let your recent conversation sink in, but the force of habit will set the two of you back into your old pattern unless you keep bringing desire and attraction up

Of course, you cannot force someone to engage with you, but your husband’s anger shows that he is not disinterested or uncaring, rather he is hurt and maybe wants some justice (in his version of things). Keep taking any opportunities for discussion and do not be afraid of upsetting him – he is already upset. This will require courage from you plus a belief in the idea of your relationship developing into something closer and more intimate.

Your husband may be full of fear that he has closed down the sexual side of himself and that it might not open up (or function) again. This is something he might explore with his GP and he may want to keep these consultations private and this should be honoured. Have patience and let your recent conversation sink in, but the force of habit will set the two of you back into your old pattern unless you keep bringing desire and attraction up.

You have a lot of life to live so make sure it is lived as fully as possible.