Sex advice with Suzi Godson: I love my wife, but I no longer view her as a sexual being

Q: "I love my wife but she is no longer the woman that I married. Since having children she has become a “martyr mother” and gives all her attention to the children. I no longer view her as a sexual being and do not find her attractive, but she demands sex from me. Will this feeling ever change?"

A: Martyr mothers are hard work. If you ask them how they are, they recount an exhausting list of after-school activities, domestic chores, play dates and doctors’ appointments, making it difficult not to conclude that their personal identity has been sucked into some horrible child-centric vortex.

In reality, martyr mother syndrome is a direct response to the illusion of the “mother archetype”. From the minute that a woman becomes pregnant, she is bombarded with medical, cultural and anecdotal advice about the gravity of her impending responsibility. 

She is pricked and poked, scanned and sutured, and then, finally, she has a baby and ... nothing. This hugely important role often turns out to be a 24/7 commitment with no pay, no recognition and no holidays. And it has to be done without complaint because she is attempting to live up to an ideal of perfect motherhood.

When no one recognises the value of what you do, you look elsewhere for validation. Since a mother is only truly indispensable to her children, it is hardly surprising that so many become preoccupied with their maternal role. “Mother” is not a particularly sexy archetype and some men, such as you, struggle to reconcile themselves to the changes that parenthood imposes on their partners. Pride in your offspring gets you through the honeymoon period but, as the years drag on, the mundanity of a life that revolves around routines, school runs and fish fingers can become less and less attractive. And the emerging gulf between parents can be compounded by using more stringent criteria to judge each other than to judge themselves.

The fundamental mistake in many relationships is how we use explanations based on “personality” to describe other people’s behaviour, whereas we take “situational” factors into consideration when we interpret our own behaviour. For example, you ignore that your wife’s role as a mother (her situation) might have something to do with her maternal focus; instead, you criticise her for having adopted a “martyr mother” personality. In contrast, you attribute your loss of interest in sex to your situation; the reason that you no longer see your wife as a sexual being is because she has made herself unattractive to you.

Since it is easier for us to be so tuned in to our partner’s failings and oblivious to our own, we find it easier to blame our partner when our relationships falter rather than to address anything that we might have done. We also tend to have an unshakeable belief in our own rightness, so that once we fixate on an idea about a person, we then find it difficult to change that perspective. It is them, not us, that has the problem. Lack of accountability cuts both ways.

Your wife might well be applying the same bias and subjectivity when she thinks about you. Her demands for sex might simply mean that she is unaware of your disregard for her. She may also be testing you. Imagine that every time you reject her, you provide another brick for the wall of resentment on her side of the bed. To answer your question about whether these feelings will change, they might — but only if you take responsibility for the
deterioration of your marriage. Right now you and your wife are mirroring each other’s negativity, but you could just as easily mirror positivity.

Start by smiling more. According to the “facial feedback” hypothesis, we feel happier when we smile, and when people smile back at us we like them more and find them more attractive.

Similarly, try getting away without the kids, preferably to undertake a physical challenge. Research shows that couples who participate in “novel and arousing” activities experience higher levels of marital satisfaction.

  • Please send your queries to suzigodson@mac.com


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