In this week’s Ask Sally Column, Emma from Brighton, 44 says she no longer feels sexually attracted to her husband – should she stay, leave, have an affair?
I am a 44 year old woman and have been married for 18 years to a kind, funny man who adores me and always lifts me up and would do anything for me. But over the last couple of years we’ve been having problems, arguing more and I have been feeling lonely and neglected in the marriage. I also don’t feel sexually attracted to him anymore, it’s like he turned into an old man overnight (he is 52). When I get my head into the right space, I can have sex with him and enjoy it, and he really knows how to please me and what I like, but I don’t feel that spark where I want to rip his clothes off and I don’t really get that vibe from him either. It’s like the sex is fine, when we do it, but it just isn’t filled with desire (not mine anyway). I feel like I love him but I’m not in love with him. I’m in quite good shape and get attention from men, (mostly younger) and am so worried I will cheat if I don’t somehow fix this as recently, I felt a real spark with one guy that showed an interest in me and I have since started to avoid him as I would never be able to forgive myself if I cheated. I want to be married but I want to want my husband, not someone else. Help.
‘I love him but I’m not in love with him.’ Is there any woman in a long-term relationship of ten years or more who wouldn’t agree with that statement? Ditto men.
We like to think we’re unique, and our relationship is unique, but the truth is that all long-term relationships go through three distinct phases. The initial attraction phase, sometimes known as the honeymoon period, is when sex is at its best. This is followed by the attachment phase, where we nest-build and may have children. Our lives become more enmeshed but at the same time, less intimate. We talk less and argue more. Stay together and we move into the companionship phase, a calmer, mutually supportive partnership.
The initial attraction phase, sometimes known as the honeymoon period, is when sex is at its best.
So although you’re questioning your relationship right now Emma, it sounds exactly like a typical relationship at year 18. You’ve built a life together that nurtures and supports you, but you’re no longer ripping each other’s clothes off. According to a new survey, sexual desire in any relationship wanes after just 12 months. You say you’re in good shape, but you could have the body of Gisele and he wouldn’t be ripping your clothes off after 18 years. And you wouldn’t be ripping his off even if he looked like David Gandy.
According to a new survey, sexual desire in any relationship wanes after just 12 months
But there’s something else going on here. You sound frustrated that despite making an effort to look attractive for your partner, he’s not doing the same for you. Telling this kind man you love that you no longer fancy him because he’s getting old isn’t easy, is it? Much easier avoid the issue, and indulge in some extended eye contact and banter with attractive young men. But what would you think of a man who decides his wife is ‘looking old,’ so starts to flirt with the young girls in his office and fantasize about having affairs? Yes, you’d think he was a bit of twat. You’d wonder why he wasn’t asking what was going on with his wife – was she stressed, depressed, overloaded? Was her confidence being slowly eroded because she could sense she was losing her partner’s interest?
You’re married to a man who is kind, funny, supports you and knows how to please you in bed. You clearly enjoy being married and say you don’t want to be unfaithful. But you’ve no doubt wondered what life would be like if you left him. Here’s what Francine Kaye, aka The Divorce Doctor, has to say to any woman contemplating leaving a basically happy marriage because it’s gone a bit stale: ‘Don’t leave until you have a strong sense of what you want instead. And be aware that men get snapped up very quickly. Men feel happier in a relationship, so don’t be surprised to find him with someone new within weeks of you leaving, no matter how devastated he was. The simple fact is that men have a wider pool of potential partners because it’s socially acceptable for them to be with someone much younger.’
The simple fact is that men have a wider pool of potential partners because it’s socially acceptable for them to be with someone much younger
So it’s worth thinking about how you would feel if you split up and he met someone else very quickly, while you navigated the shark-infested waters of internet dating, discovering that men your own age only want to date 20-year-olds, and ‘good sex’ to those hot younger men is based on what they’ve seen in porn films?
there’s no reason why you can’t have great sex, new sex and different sex with this man that you love
Ok, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. The grass is rarely greener. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on ever having amazing sex again. You won’t get back to the way it was when you first met, but there’s no reason why you can’t have great sex, new sex and different sex with this man that you love.
There are plenty of ways to step out of your sexual comfort zone without going all ‘50 Shades’ (unless you want to). You could try Slow Sex, a technique developed from Eastern tantric traditions by US sex therapist Diana Richardson, which takes the emphasis away from orgasm.
A slow sex session can take two or three hours. Here’s how Tim Broughton, who runs Making Love retreats based on Diana Richardson’s techniques describes it: ‘You start by sitting facing each other and making eye contact and doing some deep slow, breathing. Then move onto slow, gentle stroking, avoiding the genitals and breasts, and keeping your awareness on every sensation and feeling. You can kiss, but only with the lips – tongue-kissing is too arousing.
It doesn’t have to be ultra-serious – humour can help and it’s OK to stop, take a break for a cup of tea, but try to stay in the moment and not get side-tracked – keep conversation to how you are both feeling and what’s happening. You can include penetration, but no thrusting – you just lie together while together in different positions, and come apart if either of you is getting ‘hot’. You have to let go of the idea of trying to make something happen and focus on letting things happen instead.’ The theory is that sessions of ‘slow sex’ stoke our libido so that we’re more up for ‘fast sex’.
You have to let go of the idea of trying to make something happen and focus on letting things happen instead
If you don’t have two or three hours to spare, you could try having sex while holding eye contact. It’s hot because it keeps you in the ‘here and now’ – it’s harder to drift off into a fantasy when you’re locked in your partner’s gaze. That may mean it takes longer to get going, but the sex will be more intense and fulfilling. It’s a simple thing but sex with eyes open – particularly if you maintain eye contact when you orgasm – takes your intimacy to a new level, because you have allowed yourself to be seen by your partner in your most intimate state.
sex with eyes open – particularly if you maintain eye contact when you orgasm – takes your intimacy to a new level, because you have allowed yourself to be seen by your partner in your most intimate state.
I also wonder how much non-sexual touching there is between you? Studies show touching in long-term relationships tends to peak in the first few years, then tapers off. Although most couples tend to settle on a level of touching both are happy with, in most cases, it’s too little. You cannot underestimate the value of touch in a relationship – it creates connection and intimacy and it even impacts on self-esteem – a recent survey found that women who are touched more often tend to be happier with themselves.
You cannot underestimate the value of touch in a relationship – it creates connection and intimacy and it even impacts on self-esteem
These are just suggestions, and they may not be right for you. But the point is that your sex life isn’t going to spontaneously become more satisfying unless you pay it some attention. Sex therapist Susan Quilliam recently told me that more and more couples come to see her not because there is a problem, but because they want to make a good sex life even better. And a course of sex therapy is a lot cheaper than a divorce – see the College of Sex and Relationship Therapists to find a qualified therapist. There are also lots of retreats and workshops designed to take intimacy and sex to new level, like relationship coach Jan Day’s ‘conscious relating’ retreats or sex therapist Mike Lousada’s Authentic Sex workshops. Yes, they can be a bit new-agey, but they will provide you with the conducive environment you need to address those difficult issues that you’re currently avoiding for fear of hurting each other or the relationship, like what your partner needs to do to not ‘seem old’, and to make you want him again. And don’t be surprised if he has some equally frank revelations for you.
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Sally Brown, is Healthista’s resident therapist and agony aunt. She loves finding out what makes people tick and will winkle out your life story if you sit next to her at a dinner party. She feels lucky to make a living from hearing those stories, and helping people make sense of their lives and reach their true potential. Registered with the British Association of Counselors and Psychotherapists, which means she has the qualifications and experience to work safely and effectively, she also writes about emotional and psychological health for the national press. Find out more at therapythatworks.co.uk.