The question I have been with my husband for 10 years. We have two children and are very happy and enjoy being together. But one area does bother me: our sex life has dwindled, particularly since we had children. We used to have sex daily and it was great. But, as time went on and our children arrived, I find that we’re just too tired to have sex as often.
Our first child was born prematurely and spent time in neonatal intensive care. We both found that difficult and I think that I am still traumatised by it. My husband says it’s the past and that we should not dwell on that trauma. He’s right, but I can’t seem to help it.
When I’m in bed, all I want to do is sleep. My husband feels the same. When we do have sex, it’s as good as ever. However, we now only have sex maybe three to four times a month, and that scares me. I don’t want to end up in a sexless marriage. Another factor, for me, is that my body has changed after two children. My husband makes me feel desirable, but I don’t feel that way myself. I worry that we’re letting our sex life get pushed back and I’m terrified we will lose that crucial component of our marriage. Is three to four times a month enough to sustain a marriage?
Philippa’s answer Your husband says look forward not back. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I’m afraid it might not be in your power just to forget about the awful time you went through in the neonatal intensive care unit. It comes back to haunt you and you may need to weep or rage, or go inwards and be held while this happens. Sometimes a partner thinks it is their job to fix you, but it isn’t. Their job is to be with you while you recover from what that shocking time did to you. It is not easy to hurry healing. We cannot all experience or feel such things in the same way – or get better at the same speed.
Now, sex. I’m very impressed. Three or four times a month and you’ve got two young children. Rather than wondering whether this is enough to sustain a marriage, I think I will award you both a medal for having so much. Most couples with children, when they have a moment for congress, usually agree they’ll do the foreplay afterwards if there’s time, but you say it’s as good as ever. I’m almost reluctant to publish your letter in case it gives other couples too high a standard to live up to.
When you’re in your dotage, you won’t be sexual as often as you are in your younger days, and this drop-off happens gradually and sometimes in bigger steps, like when you have a child, or an illness. Don’t muddle the kind of dropping off that happens naturally over time with the dropping off that happens when you’ve got a difference you cannot reconcile. Just because a drop in sexual frequency might happen if couples grow apart, it doesn’t follow that they are growing apart if they have less sex.
It can rock your sense of security when sex falls off a bit because, quite often, it’s a strong mutual physical attraction that got you together in the first place, but it is the other stuff that happens in a relationship that keeps it together – like enjoying each other’s company. What sustains a marriage isn’t regular, terrific sex, it is honouring bids for attention. What I mean by this is that when one of you makes a remark (it need not be about sex, it could be as mundane as a comment about the cat), or otherwise seems to be asking for a response, that reaching out – the bid – is responded to, or, in other words, honoured.
Research has shown that when seven out of 10 bids in a marriage are honoured on both sides, the marriage will do well.
Another indicator of a good marriage is loving touch – which isn’t necessarily sexual touch. Feeling relaxed with each other means you can share thoughts and feelings. Not feeling competitive with each other too often and not getting into a frequent scramble for the moral high ground also helps to make for a long-lasting, mutually supportive bond. Over time, a couple shares so many other things together, such as memories and bringing up children, that their love is less likely to be demonstrated through sex. Other things can gradually take the place of sex as bonding agents.
I’m afraid our bodies do reach a peak condition in youth and, as you age, you are allowed to mourn the loss of taut flesh, just as you are allowed to mourn the fact that sex is no longer a daily occurrence. But this will not dent your capacity to love and appreciate each other as much as you ever did. And, occasionally, such a body, with its bulges and aches, will also be the vehicle with which you enjoy great sex – just not as often.
There is a possibility that your two issues may be linked. Which may mean that if your husband could understand that you personally can’t just click your fingers and put the trauma of the neonatal unit behind you but need time to process what you went through, you both might feel like having sex more often.