Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au's weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred. This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie tackles a man struggling to cope with his wife's constant sexual rejection.
I'm struggling to maintain what I believe is a healthy, intimate relationship with my wife. We both currently suffer depression. Like many females, she has also been the victim of sexual assault early in her life.
We've been together for about 10 years and married for eight. Our first born (daughter) was born nine years ago, which was relatively early in the relationship, but we were friends prior for about five years as well.
Prior to the birth of my daughter we enjoyed a very regular sex life, which I'd assume is pretty normal for the "honeymoon" period.
Since my daughter was born, sex has been a rare occurrence (three month gap each time), despite me asking for it and planning nights in advance when possible.
Needing to ask and being rejected 99 per cent of the time I feel is a contributing factor to my depression. It was a task to even consummate the marriage and the six-week honeymoon lacked sex.
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I am constantly tasked with improving my own life as she says it's a factor in our lack of intimacy. There are certainly elements I feel she's right in, and others not so much.
That being said, each time I endeavour to improve that aspect of my life, whether it's physical or mental health, work, the house or as a father, there is zero effort on her behalf to improve our intimacy and I find myself irritated, rebellious and about half the time regress into my former ways.
Since the "honeymoon" period ended, I have been the one to initiate any form of intimacy, even hugs. Sex has always required asking, it has never been sporadic or happened naturally.
When we argue, it's essentially quid pro quo. I'll fix my faults which she tells me will improve her intimacy, but it never does.
When I'm upfront with her and tell her she needs to improve that aspect she essentially ignores it, saying things like "it's her body her choice" (which is true), flatly "no", or that I'm lacking in some other way. She disregards any research I find that says intimacy is an important component to a happy relationship.
I love my wife, and do not want to separate. She is perfect in every other way. I want to have a family unit and be with my kids, but intimacy is extremely important to me, it makes me feel loved and as such I'm not sure I can remain in the relationship if it's void of intimacy. What do I do?
I'm sorry you're experiencing this. I hear your frustration and the effort you've invested in improving this. I also hear the love and admiration you have for your wife.
If we set aside research for a moment, what I hear is that intimacy is important to you – therefore it becomes important to your relationship. Your wife is right in that she should always have a choice when it comes to her body. We should never have sex when we don't want to, but it's also important that we consider our partner's needs.
It's valid to want regular, enjoyable, reciprocal sex as a part of a relationship. It's understandable that physical and sexual intimacy are part of how you feel loved.
Relationship research now shows that the quid pro quo approach doesn't help build healthy relationships.
It's important that you're able to work on this like any other important issue in the relationship – as a team.
You may already have tried this, but see if you can begin with an agreement that a sexually intimate relationship is a valid need for you to have and ask if you can begin to work on this together.
Share how the lack of physical and sexual intimacy impacts you emotionally and try to state your needs in a positive way.
Let your wife know what you see as the consequences of this not being worked on. Not as an ultimatum, but by way of letting her know just how concerning this issue is for you.
A lack of sexual interest can be due to various factors. It's very often possible to overcome these and have intimacy that feels good to both of you. Many couples try one-off approaches to feeling "in the mood" or say they'll make an effort but feel frustrated that nothing really changes.
Tackling the issue of sexual desire requires a strategic approach that considers all issues involved.
When working with couples to increase desire, I address the relationship as a whole. Ensuring you have a strong connection, good communication and are working well as a team helps you work on sexual intimacy more easily.
From a place of greater connection, you usually feel less resentful about the issue of sex, can talk about it with more compassion and understanding and are more open to finding practical solutions to bridge the gap of mismatched desires together.
Sexual desire is responsive – it responds to stimuli going on around us. We can think of it as like having brakes and accelerators. We don't just need to add in accelerators, we also need to address brakes if we want to get it moving.
Address "sexual brakes" before trying to cultivate desire. Your wife has considerable "sexual brakes". Regaining sexual intimacy will require her to address them. Sometimes addressing brakes means changing external circumstances, but sometimes it requires changing our mindset.
It would be helpful for her to see a personal therapist (if she isn't already) to give her support for depression and to help her work through the issues relating to sexual abuse.
Having children can impact desire, although again, this can be worked through if she's willing.
The state of a relationship impacts desire, but focusing on a partner can turn into a series of never-ending hoops to jump through as you describe. It's important that we take responsibility for our own erotic life – not place the responsibility for our desire onto our partner.
Once you've somewhat addressed the brakes (we can never remove them completely), begin to explore what her "sexual accelerators" are and how you can build them into your relationship.
Bringing back physical, sensual and then sexual intimacy slowly, in a way that feels good to both of you and without focusing on the "goal" of sex is often helpful here.