My husband and I are in our mid-50s and have been together for 30 years. I cannot remember the last time we had sex – it was at least four years ago. The last few times, he found it difficult and lost his erection. I don’t know why, and I think I felt that maybe it was me somehow. The problem is that we have no intimacy at all. He has never been terribly demonstrative physically, and I wonder if this is because his parents never were, but now we never touch, never hold hands, never cuddle.
Occasionally, I have tried, but it is very obvious that he doesn’t want me near him – he becomes stiff and awkward until I let go. At the moment, every conversation we have turns into an argument and, at times, it seems better not to talk at all. Hence the idea of even starting to become close again is not something I feel I want to do. I see other couples our age holding hands and being affectionate – even my parents, who are now 80.
I feel lonely. Our two children will soon both be gone. I often think about leaving him, but the reality is very difficult to think about. We have very little pension between us and our future depends on selling up and possibly buying somewhere smaller. If I were to leave him, we would both struggle for money, and I would certainly have no option of retiring from my job, which I find very stressful.
We live as housemates. We share things, we do things as a family sometimes, we eat together and share cooking, etc. We don’t spend evenings together. We go out as a couple maybe once a year.
I yearn for some love and affection from someone and, although I could go on as I am, when I think of the next 30 years or so without this, especially when my children have left, I feel very down. I don’t know what to do. I wouldn’t know how to begin to leave him as I have nowhere to go, cannot afford to rent somewhere else, and don’t want to leave our lovely house. I am going round in circles and, meanwhile, month after month, year after year goes by. I wish I could just have a break from him in the hope that we could then continue, and make a new start.
Some couples have no, or little, sex but a lot of intimacy, and function well and are happy. Some couples have a great sex life but little else. The key is what both of you are happy with, and you are clearly not happy.
The lack of intimacy seems to bother you the most, which isn’t surprising. Intimacy – which a specialist in relationships once described to me as “knowing absolutely what was going on with the other person” – is really about communication and that seems to be sorely lacking. Communication is hugely important in relationships.
I consulted Jo Coker, a psychosexual therapist (cosrt.org.uk), who said: “This is such a common problem and usually it is disguising other major problems.”
The erectile dysfunction is not something to discount easily and should, Coker advises, be medically checked out in the first instance. Has your husband been to seen a GP? I appreciate that it is a difficult subject for you to bring up with him.
“Typically,” Coker explains, “when a man loses his erection, the partner personalises it and then retreats. What then tends to happen is people become more distant. They don’t communicate and every conversation turns into an argument.” Furthermore, what may be happening if your partner fears erectile dysfunction again, is that he will fear physical closeness and you in turn interpret that as rejection. And so it goes on.
Coker continues: “His parents not being overly affectionate with each other doesn’t necessarily explain why your husband is like this. His parents’ generation tended not to be so demonstrative.” Although we note that you say your parents are very affectionate together – this may throw your own relationship into starker relief.
I think it is very much worth trying to reconnect, because you can’t really think about splitting up if you haven’t tried as far as possible to fix this. I think therapy would really help you: either try your GP or find an accredited local therapist through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists site (cosrt.org.uk/information-for-members-of-the-public/therapist-listing) .
It would be most beneficial if you could go to therapy together, but you can’t make your husband go. I appreciate that even asking him to go may be too much at the moment – but, remember, you can have couples therapy on your own and he can join you later, or not at all. It would be amazingly beneficial for you to talk in a safe place – this problem is nothing to be ashamed of.
What you and your husband need is communication and when you do eventually sit down and talk, it will be amazing what comes out. I always think that seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes can be incredibly intimate, or incredibly alienating. That is the risk, but either way it is illuminating and, unless you want to spend the next 30 years in this dulled state, it is a process you have to go through. Good luck.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 18 November 2016.