Tell Me About It: ‘It has been more than five years since any intimacy took place. I feel entitled to look for my needs to be met elsewhere’
My husband has no interest whatsoever in having a sexual relationship. We have been married for over 40 years. It has been more than five years since any intimacy took place. He is a kind and considerate man, but the reality is that he doesn’t see me as a woman with sexual needs but more like a sister that he loves.
He is a good bit older than me. I am now beginning to feel that if I want to have a sexual relationship, that it needn’t be with my husband. I feel entitled to look for my needs to be met elsewhere.
I couldn’t talk to anyone about this issue, so I’m seeking your advice.
There is so much you haven’t said in your letter – have you managed to have conversations about this situation, do you know how your husband feels about loosing his libido or capacity for sex, and have you managed to be understood about how difficult it is for you not to feel desired?
Judging from the numbers, you must be at least 60 and your husband maybe 70, and unless there has been a pattern of talking about intimacy and sex in your relationship, this much needed conversation is going to be difficult. You sound angry at your husband for his lack of desire, and this shows how important feeling attractive is to you. But have you considered if your grief at the loss of the intimate part of your relationship is shared by your husband as he copes with the loss of his sexual drive? Even talking about this would create intimacy between you and lead to more options than you have so far given yourself.
Loss of desire in a relationship, where no sex is happening, is a common issue for couples of all genders (and ages), and of course as we get older our bodies no longer perform as they did in our youth, so difficulty in sexual response is something that should not come as a surprise and should be discussed openly. Many people despair when their bodies no longer respond to sexual stimulus, and instead of seeking help, they become ashamed and turn inward so that silence and distance becomes the outward signs of their distress. This then leads to the assumption by their partner that they are no longer interested, or no longer find the other person attractive, and so hurt and rejection are the result. Resentment, fear and emotional distance can then go on for years, leading to an unnecessary poor relationship where two people who could find comfort and care in one another instead circle each other with negative intensity.
It is a good sign that your libido and sense of desire are alive and thriving in your 60s, but you say you have no one to talk to about this and this is adding to your “stuckness” – can you talk to a psychotherapist or psychologist and begin the process of self-understanding? Any of the professional body websites will provide you with specialities of their members and you can select sexuality from the drop-down menu to ensure that who you chose is someone who is skilled in this topic. (See psychotherapycouncil.ie or psychologicalsociety.ie).
If you seek to keep your marriage alive and healthy, you will need help to understand your own self but also the needs of your husband and his requires you both to address the pattern of communication in your relationship. You say your husband is a kind and caring man. If you seek his support for you, and the relationship, you may help him engage with you in a way that does not leave him feeling shamed or inadequate.
Your husband is a man of a time when men did not speak of intimate things and whom (in general) did not benefit from hearing men discuss sexual difficulties. The introduction of Viagra changed this somewhat and now it is possible for older men to talk to their GPs who have access to a body of knowledge and options to address sexual difficulties. What’s more, in men the disappearance of libido or sexual functioning should always be checked out medically, as it may signify an underlying condition that needs attention, so your husband should go to his GP as a matter of urgency. The GP will be able to assess him and know if medication or medication and counselling are called for. Can you support him to do this?
The journey to physical connection is a well-trodden path. The New Male Sexuality by Bernie Zilbergeld is a worthwhile read and has many suggestions for gradual sensual connection that could set you both on the right path. The journey to sensual connection is one that requires vulnerability and courage and there is no quick solution. Even if medication can help with your husband’s libido, you still have five years of hurt and rejection that will need to be untangled and understood. The starting point for this is to state that you want the marriage to be intimate, that you want him as the focus of your attraction and that you will be there with him for the journey ahead.
A danger to avoid is setting an unconscious time target that results in you measuring his success or failure thus contributing to a sense that the relationship is on trial. Can you both agree to start the process and review it in six months, and perhaps again in six-month intervals, so that you do not baulk at the first disappointment?
After 40 years together, does your relationship not deserve some energy and attention in this new phase?