Loyal Husband

Friday, December 02, 2005

Question

Now that both of our kids are in elementary school, my wife wants to make some changes in our life. I don't have any problem with her going back to work; we could use the extra money, and I think it would make her happier. She could use some of the skills from her degree in library science. In theory, you'd think I would also be happy to see her regain an interest in sex. But she seems to think I can just flip some kind of switch and turn it all back on. It ain't that easy.

I felt very hurt and disappointed when my wife shut me out after the twins were born. I understood that we would have less time alone, but even when I tried to help her with the babies, she pushed me away. She seemed to feel like she had to do it all herself. I still loved her and I wanted a family so I kept my head down and just worked longer hours, so she could stay home and be a full-time mom. Now my employer has certain expectations of me, like ten-hour days, that I can't just refuse without risking being fired.

My wife told me it was normal for a woman to lose her interest in sex after giving birth. I didn't agree, but I would wait as long as I could before asking—hell, begging—her for some relief. I'm still angry about this. And I have to admit that she is not as attractive to me as she was six years ago. She may not have been interested in sex, but she was plenty interested in food, and running around after the kids apparently didn't burn up a lot of calories. I was eating a lot of junk food too, because I felt so frustrated, and so I feel alienated and unhappy with my own body. We're both way too fat to be sexy.

Look, I don't want to divorce my wife. I've reached a kind of peace with the sort of relationship that we have. But now she is accusing me of having an affair because I am finding it difficult to resume sexual relations with her. How can I save my marriage? Unlike my wife, I can't just fake an orgasm if I want to pretend to enjoy sex.

Answer

This really does seem unfair, until you remember that a woman who fakes an orgasm is denying her partner as well as herself. It's kind of like pretending a new recipe is really tasty when you actually hate it. You oughta know that evil casserole is going to show up again if you sing its praises while holding back your barf with an iron will. Same thing is true of bad sex. If he thought it made you come like crazy, he's going to do it again—just because he's a nice guy.

It's painful to say, "Gee, honey, this tastes nasty" or "Babe, this isn't going to get me off," and maybe it'll cause a fight. But in the long run, it'll save your menu for pleasure at the table or in bed.

Your marriage is long overdue for a similarly scary dose of the truth. Get the name of an experienced, sex-positive couples counselor before you sit your wife down for a catch-up tour of your emotional landscape over the last six years. Resentment is, in my opinion, the single most frequent factor that destroys the sensuous gratification in a relationship. You have been grieving the loss of sexual connection with your wife for a long, long time, and you're angry about how she hurt you. If she's like the typical woman, she's been bitching at you to get more in touch with your feelings anyway. So let her have her wish!

One of the things that many women don't understand about most men is that sex means a lot more than an opportunity to ejaculate. Sex is the realm within which men often achieve intimacy. The fact that a woman is vulnerable with you makes it safe for you to be vulnerable as well. Receiving sex from her makes you feel loved and close to her. It's also a guy's way of creating an atmosphere within which deeper conversations can take place. By telling you to just take it on the chin when she lost her libido, your wife cut you off from a complex stream of communication and closeness with her.

Besides, that stuff about losing all desire post-popping out a baby is way too black-and-white. After birth, many women do experience depression. They can experience less lust, especially if they are exhausted by being the sole caregiver for the baby. But when you've got a partner who offers to help and you send him away, that's deliberate sabotage. Your wife should have been more alert to the damage she was doing to your marriage, and taken steps to deal with her own emotions. She's damn lucky you didn't have an affair or leave her, and her guilt about this is getting turned inside-out and expressed as accusing you of infidelity.

If the two of you can vent some of the emotional source of alienation, you still need to repair the physical side of your sex life. I disagree with you about fat people not being sexy, but I do think you need to feel good about your body before you can enjoy sex. If that means putting down the junk food and going to the gym together, so be it. The endorphins that you get from exercise are a really wonderful antidote to alienation and depression, and I'm guessing that time on the treadmill will translate into trashing the sheets.

Meanwhile, get close to each other in physical but nonsexual ways. Give each other backrubs. Hold each other and take turns doing non-genital touching. Cuddle. Feed each other healthy snacks (strawberries that haven't been dipped in chocolate, perhaps?). Take showers or baths together. Learn how to do foot massage. Going from zero sex to instant X-rated heat might be too big a step. Both of you need time to reconnect. Instead of trying to get back to where you were before you became parents, see this as a chance to have a whole different, new kind of sex life—one that is kinder, more honest, and more mature. But very, very dirty.

In the future, remember not to keep your feelings to yourself. After a fight, you get the chance to have makeup sex. But after a silent sulk, all you get is a pouty lower lip.