My wife told me 28 years ago she doesn’t want a sexual relationship

Tell Me About It: All I want is to hold her in my arms like it was in our early years

PROBLEM: I am a man and have been married for 49 years. Twenty-eight years ago, my wife came to me and told me straight out, “I do not want a sexual or intimate relationship with you any more.”

She has said she does not enjoy sex with me. We have two children. So, for the past 28 years, I have been alone in my bedroom and she in another room. I am not even allowed to see her undress. At the age of 67, all I want is to hold her in my arms like it was in our early years and the sex act does not even come in to play.

We have had talks about this, and she says I am too needy, too clingy and she doesn’t have time to give me the attention I want for this. She says she just doesn’t have time for that.

So, is it time we move on from each other this late in life?

ADVICE: It is a very lonely existence not to have closeness and affection in your life and you say that this has been going on for a very long time. Your wife’s explanation that she doesn’t have time for intimacy does not ring true and it is highly likely that there is a lot more behind this statement.

It may be that something happened in her life 28 years ago, or something happened earlier which surfaced then. In any case she fell out of love with you and has stayed married for parenting or security or some other reason. Your marriage and family have stayed together but we rarely find it satisfying not to be the most important person in our partner’s lives and we yearn to be wanted, desired and cared for.

The research report “Enduring Love? Couple relationships in the 20th Century” (Open University Press, 2013) suggests that kindness is one of the biggest factors in relationship success, and it seems that there is little kindness between you and your wife. The research also suggests that being “best friends” with one’s partner ranked very highly with both men and women, and this is something that neither you nor your wife share with each other. You feel that your wife does not care for your need for affection and attraction and I wonder if your long years of denial has blocked your empathy to her also?

No sex does not need to signify a poor relationship, as many couples choose each other in spite of this and have deep, loyal and emotionally satisfying relationships

Many couples do not have sex. The reasons vary, from the stress and the anxiety of living to body issues and events in life, but most have to confront this in order to have a happy and connected relationship. The difficulty is if this is not discussed, loneliness and isolation can be the result, even in the middle of a long marriage.

No sex does not need to signify a poor relationship, as many couples choose each other in spite of this and have deep, loyal and emotionally satisfying relationships. However, to get to that stage, couples need to face the issue, be brave enough to face their partner with their sense of loss and grief at the lack of intimacy, and then be open to hear the truth behind the lack of desire in their loved one.

As you can imagine, this discussion has all the hallmarks of intimacy: honesty, valuing the other person as worthy of truth, and bravery in facing reality. If you are to recover any sense of connection in your life, this is what has to happen and the help of a couples therapist might be invaluable.

However, it might be over-optimistic to think that after 28 years you and your wife are capable of this discussion as it seems the main method of getting on with life has been avoidance and withdrawal and this may now be a fixed pattern between you.

Your children should now be adults and maybe your primary reason for continuing with the marriage is no longer valid so perhaps you could consider discussing separation. This could result in a wake-up call and serious discussion with your wife or it may show, beyond doubt, that the relationship is over and, if this is the case, you should act as soon as possible as you still have a lot of life to live.

At your age, there are many people who are single, due to separation, loss of a loved one or choice and, as a result, are seeking companionship, love and sex. The great thing about being older is that you have nothing to lose and if you are willing to reach for it, there is a huge possibility of having meaningful and fun relationships.

Drugs, such as Viagra, have introduced a new possibility for sex and intimacy in later life, and desire can be as delightful and demanding as it was in your younger years. Of course, to have intimacy in your life will require you to get beyond your stance of self-sacrifice and to honour your desire by being upfront about it.

Joining clubs or volunteering is a way to meet new people but really there is nothing more efficient than going online to seek a partner. Your children or grandchildren should be able to help you set up a profile (they might find it fun) and once this is done, you may be on the road to having the relationship you so wish for.