About last night: Dwindling sex life leads to anxiety

March 18, 2018

Q: I’ve read and enjoyed your column for many years, and have noticed one theme that crops up time after time. A reader says that they love their partner, and have a great life, but sex has stopped, or become a problem. I’ve come to realise that I’m the one who avoids sex and has shut down. My partner has been patient, but I’ve noticed a change recently, and fear that there’s something being hidden from me. I’m desperate to know the truth, but I am also terrified that I will not be able to handle what I discover. Help!

A: You are absolutely right; the most common letters I receive are from people who are struggling with issues of desire and sexual satisfaction in a long-term relationship that is otherwise good. It was to offer assistance to these couples that Dr Rosie King wrote her invaluable book Good Loving, Great Sex: Finding Balance when Your Sex Drives Differ.

It is so easy to become complacent, and to avoid addressing issues that build up

It is so easy to become complacent, and to avoid addressing issues that build up

At first, our intention is to monitor and adjust our relationship as things change. The reality is that life can get in the way, and the safe haven from which you go out into the world can become stale, and lifeless.

Psychologist Esther Perel is the author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Emotional Intelligence, in which she questions many of the assumptions and expectations we have about long-term, monogamous relationships. I suggest that you watch these TedTalks videos before you attempt to make any changes (ted.com/talks/esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship/transcript and ted.com/talks/esther_perel_rethinking_infidelity_a_talk_for_anyone_who_has_ever_loved).

Try not to beat yourself up over this. It is so easy to become complacent, and to avoid addressing issues that build up. Days slip by, routines are followed, and we find ways to get by. Eventually, a problematic situation can become entrenched, and toxic. Sometimes, it takes a major shock to jolt us out of our rut – illness, bereavement, an accident. Life forces us to confront our reality. One of these blows can be discovering a partner’s infidelity.

Perel says that this can sound the death knell for a relationship that is virtually dead already, but it can also be the catalyst for creating a richer, more rewarding future. She points out that the majority of couples dealing with infidelity do not break up. The quality of the relationship that follows depends on the willingness of both partners to do what is required to rebuild trust and passion. She offers hope, optimism, and helpful strategies that might help you to face any distressing revelations.

Ironically, one common result of discovering infidelity can be that the partner who had lost interest in sex finds themselves feeling sexually inspired once more. Meanwhile, the partner who has been caught being unfaithful often realises that they want to save the original relationship and are motivated to do what it takes to reconnect.

Perel’s upbeat, optimistic and positive attitude towards life and love after infidelity means she is often asked if she recommends having an affair. Her answer is that she recommends having an affair as much as she recommends getting cancer. Many cancer sufferers say that their diagnosis was a wake-up call, that they have had a renewed appreciation and love of life, and they have learned to live life to the fullest. We need to learn how to live our best life without having to have a shock.

You fear making a painful discovery, but the best chance you have of getting back on track is to face the truth, and to acknowledge whatever role you might have played in the situation.

It is never easy to deal with your hurt and anger, and both of you have to want to come together once more, but the future can be richer than ever. It can be useful to get professional relationship counselling, especially in the first, traumatic days, but there is no need to despair. Life and love can be wonderful once more. In fact, you might look back on this event as a blessing.

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