Doubts after fiancé ‘seemed to go off sex almost overnight’

It is the person with the lower sex drive who maintains control in the sexual relationship.

>> I recently got engaged after four years with my boyfriend. I love him to bits, but I have huge doubts because our sex life has dwindled to almost nothing. His mum died unexpectedly and he seemed to go off sex almost overnight and started drinking a lot. He is also paying off huge debts. He has had counselling for his grief. He is caring and tells me every day that he loves me, but I feel as though I will never have a fulfilling sex life if I don’t do something now.

>> You are absolutely right to try to resolve this problem now because marriage tends to exacerbate, rather than diminish, sexual difficulties.

In her book Mating in Captivity, psychotherapist Esther Perel explains how the very qualities people look for in the institution of marriage — grounding, meaning, familiarity and habit — end up undermining relationships by killing the element of unpredictability and risk that is necessary for healthy eroticism.

When sex goes off the marital menu it is usually women who get the blame, but in a Redbook survey of 1,000 couples carried out for her book The Sex Starved Marriage, Michele Weiner Davis, a marriage therapist, found that low libido is as big a problem for men as it is for women.

When the psychotherapist Brett Kahr surveyed modern sexual habits for his book Sex and the Psyche, he established that as many as 32%of British adults could be classified as having low sexual frequency (having sex less than once a month) and in 1994 figures from the US National Health and Social Life Survey found 20% of American couples had sex fewer than 10 times a year.

There are numerous explanations for low libido in men and women. For some it is a physical response to illness, medication, or declining testosterone; for others it has a psychological cause or is a reflection of unhappiness in the marital relationship. But the difference between the two genders is in how they respond to the problem.

Women are statistically more likely to seek help for low libido, but because virility is so closely tied to the idea of “maleness”, men tend to bury their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong.

In your partner’s case, his loss of interest in sex does seem to be directly linked to the trauma of his mother’s unexpected death, coupled with his existing financial difficulties and subsequent alcohol abuse. He has had some counselling, but it clearly wasn’t enough and, although he probably wouldn’t admit it, I suspect he is depressed.

More women are treated for clinical depression, but studies show that the same number of men suffer from the condition. Many men won’t acknowledge the problem and instead of seeking professional help and treatment, they try to numb their feelings with alcohol or drugs, as your partner is doing. It would also explain his lack of interest in sex since about 75% of people with depression report a loss of sex drive. Depression is a manageable condition and although SSRI antidepressants are known to cause low libido, certain brands can now be used in conjunction with Viagra or Levitra to overcome that side-effect.

It’s important you get him to agree to go to the doctor, which is easier said than done. If he won’t co-operate, you need to get tough because if you turn a blind eye to his denial and ignore your own feelings of hurt, confusion and rejection, you give him the power to veto sex in your relationship.

In couples with mismatched desire, it is the person with the lower sex drive who maintains control in the sexual relationship. When your husband says no, sex doesn’t happen, and as long as you don’t complain or seek sex elsewhere, he continues to determine how inadequate, unattractive, and unfulfilled you feel. Clearly that is not a healthy or a happy place from which to start a marriage, so you must give him an ultimatum. Either he gets help or the wedding is off. It may sound harsh, but forcing him to address this is the best wedding present you could give him.

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