You describe a problem that affects almost all committed couples to some degree. Sexual frequency declines over time in all relationships because sexual tension feeds on novelty, and therefore it is antithetical to the comfortable companionship that is integral to long-term commitment.
Some couples can pinpoint the precise moment their sex lives changed; having a baby, for example. Others experience a more gradual decline, and it can be difficult to identify what prompted the initial deterioration.
Sometimes life events, such as bereavement or illness, can alter the way adults relate to each other sexually. Alternatively, the multiple pressures of having children, working and not feeling appreciated can create distance. Sometimes, just acknowledging the problem, setting up date nights, or getting away to a hotel for a night or two, is enough to relight the fire.
However, both partners need to be committed to “project sex” if those efforts are going to be enough to restore regular sexual interactions.
Although there is no magic sex formula for “how much is enough?”, when physical intimacy disappears completely, it is generally a sign that one or both partners is withholding something.
That “thing” may be attention, affection, support, sex, information or respect, but unless a couple can identify what is triggering the behaviour, it is very unlikely to change.
Ignoring the problem can create much bigger ones in the long run. A large-scale investigation of later-life divorce in the US in 2004 found that 24 per cent of marriages broke down because couples had just “gradually drifted apart” or “fallen out of love with each other”.
Some of those marriages could probably have been saved if the couples involved were prepared to invest in their sexual relationship, but, unfortunately, we do not have a culture that recognises couple counselling, or sex therapy, as protective interventions.
Instead, they are viewed as a last-ditch attempt either to save a marriage or convince a reluctant partner that divorce is an inevitability. The average couple wait six years before seeking help for relationship difficulties, by which time the marriage is often irreparably damaged. As a result, counselling has a high failure rate, because therapists are effectively trying to place a sticking plaster on an amputation.
The only way to turn ‘liking’ into ‘lusting’ is to create a radical shift in the way you see each other. This is not something you are likely to be able to do without professional help. Although talking about your relationship with a trained professional might seem like a cognitive solution to a physical problem, it is the ultimate antidote to sexual apathy.
It is also about the most constructive thing that you and your wife could do for yourselves as individuals, partners and parents.
A traditional couples counsellor or a sex therapist will help you to track back through your relationship to work out when and why your sexual connection began to deteriorate.
Initially, your therapist may tell you to ignore sex and to focus on touch, but eventually you will be encouraged to have sex between weekly visits so you can report problems, or progress, at the next session.
Often, couples who are tentative about starting therapy find that they keep going because they enjoy doing their homework so much.
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