How do I make things work with my wife while we're working through our issues?
April 21, 2009 6:05 PM   Subscribe

My wife and i are working through some difficult issues. We love each other dearly, but we're no longer physically intimate. Neither one of us is willing to give up on our relationship. How do I make things work while we're trying to make things work?

So to make a very long story short, my wife and I have been married 6 years, together over 10. Shortly before we got married our sex life started to head south and over the years deteriorated into sex once every couple months (if that). She's terribly uncomfortable with the idea of being physically intimate. After much arguing and a near divorce I convinced her to go to couple's therapy.

The good news is that we've learned so much about our relationship and love for each other. The process is far from easy, but its worth it. More often than not the therapy reinforces the positives of our relationship. However we still have a long way to go and the physical aspect of our relationship has yet to return.

So here's my question - aside from masturbation and having some good friends to complain to every now and again, what can I do to make life easier for myself and my wife as we're working things out?

(side note: please don't bother telling me to leave her or get a girlfriend on the side. i'm not interested in either of those options, so save your breath)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Maybe you've tried this, but can you do anything to get more busy with her? I don't mean get busy with her, I mean to do more productive, intimacy building, things with her? Take a class, go for nightly walks, play board games? Whatever. Intimacy, as I'm sure you know, is not all about sex.

Secondly, my dad is a marriage counselor and he told me once that when couples don't have sex he tells them to go home and promise NOT to have sex no matter how badly they want to, but to promise TO give each other nightly back rubs, foot rubs, oil massages, etc. Couples leave less intimidated. They build physical intimacy without all of the fear / bad memories / pressure of the big "S". (He also told me that about 50% of the time the couples don't make it through the week, which he was never upset about, of course).

Sorry about this - sounds horrible. Good luck.
posted by crapples at 6:28 PM on April 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

I have little to offer but no one has posted yet, so I just wanted to express appreciation for your efforts to work this out. Have you considered therapy for just deal with the lack of physical intimacy and provide some coping mechanisms? Maybe this is something to consider for your wife. If physical intimacy makes your wife "terribly uncomfortable", there may be something there she's got to work through. Or she may have other issues (body issues, intimacy issues) that would be better discussed without you present. Just a few ideas.
I wish you and your wife the best.
posted by Jezebella at 6:33 PM on April 21, 2009

I am so grateful for my happy marriage and awesome partner, and we too, were thrown for a loop after 10 years of goodness when we had a baby and experienced physical intimacy issues. Not exactly what you're working through, but I wanted to share with you some helpful things for us that were exactly as you described--what to do to work through while you're working through:

*It was so, so, so important that my partner initiated non-goal oriented physical intimacy and no matter how well it was going, NOT crossing the line into goal-oriented intimacy. In other words, making it clear he want to give me a good hand massage and then, when it was clear I was enjoying it, NOT taking that as open season on non-hand areas. At first, he would be almost professional-like: strong friendship hugs, therapeutic-type massage, even tucking me and the baby in with blankets he heated up in the dryer. Eventually, I was ready to initiate, and I was ready because I felt both loved AND respected--plus, I felt (in probably an irrational way) that he hadn't given up on me and wasn't totally grossed out by my old lady postpartum hair and butt.
*Speaking of postpartum butts, we tried to exchange frequent compliments on both our characters and accomplishments and on how we looked. "You're so good with the baby," "I like your hair longer," "Hey, new shirt? It's awesome!" He needed to hear these things from me and it was nice to hear them from him. Also, the more I focused on finding nice things to say, the more I thought of him in a nice way, and this warms things up eventually.
*Do not underestimate a change of scenery, even if its a local hotel. It's fun to play hookey from your real life and be goofy together and change the external circumstances--sometimes internal ones change as a result.
*Start a new, fun ritual together. We got into the habit of getting the baby down, snuggling into bed and watching just one TV episode on iTunes or DVD. Sort of like a tiny slumber party. Two years later, we're still doing it and it's so nice. It's good to have something to look forward to together than emphasizes togetherness but is low-pressure.

These were little things we talked about doing, so we were on the same page. I think it's wonderful that you're doing the counseling and have such obvious regard for your wife and what you've accomplished as a relationship so far. My thoughts are with you, and enjoy each other!
posted by rumposinc at 6:35 PM on April 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

However we still have a long way to go and the physical aspect of our relationship has yet to return.

Potentially painful question to ask yourself: What if it never returns or what if it never returns in frequency you like?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 PM on April 21, 2009

Is your wife on hormonal birth control by chance? How old is she?
posted by txvtchick at 7:34 PM on April 21, 2009

She's terribly uncomfortable with the idea of being physically intimate.

You need to tell us more about why that is: is she unhappy with her physical appearance (has she gained any weight since you got married)? Is she no longer attracted to you (have you gained any weight)? Is she suffering from any medical conditions that prevent her from enjoying sex, physical or emotional?

You say that she is in love with you (are you sure that's true?), so you need to think of what exactly changed after you got married, since you claim that you had a healthy sex life at some point in the past. The steps you can take to make the process of healing easier depend on why this problem occurred in the first place.
posted by halogen at 7:44 PM on April 21, 2009

In addition to the marraige/couples counselor, see a sex therapist as a couple. Seriously.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:52 PM on April 21, 2009

the asker didn't ask us how to get to bone his wife. he made clear that those issues are already being worked on in a way he finds to be satisfactory, but he's having problems dealing with the (totally normal) built up tension that a lack of intimacy brings. maybe we could respect him enough to answer the question he asked instead of trying to diagnose his sex life.

the non-focused intimacy is certainly a good idea if your wife is up for it. that way you get closeness, but she isn't made uncomfortable by sex. try out some of the non-focused intimacy when you're in public so she feels even less pressured - touch her hand when you go out to eat, go for walks in the park and put your arm around her...(i assume you mean sex and the things leading up to it when you talk about her lack of intimacy. if she's opposed to hugging and holding hands while you go for walks, then forget i mentioned this one).

as for things you can do yourself that doesn't require her input or her time (unless she's interesting in joining you in these things) - it seems you need to tackle the things you get from sex - physical exhaustion, endorphins, and the stimulation of your senses. but, you have already found that masturbation isn't scratching the itch, so maybe look at finding those things in a nonsexual way.

pick up a physical activity for yourself. do something that will give you a rush of endorphins that isn't related to your libido.

pamper yourself. this might be hard to do (it sometimes is for guys) - but find something you like the taste, touch, smell, sound, or sight of and go after that - it could be a relaxing bath, good food, buying a cologne you normally wouldn't treat yourself to, just something that will waken up your senses.

i wish you both the best of luck.
posted by nadawi at 12:32 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

One hour at a time. That's how you take these things. You are already doing all you can. You just have to endure, and keep moving forward. I repeat: concentrate on one hour at a time.
posted by agentwills at 6:54 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find physical activities like playing tennis, going to the batting cages, or doing yoga can help me focus less on "Ugh, I want to get laid" and more on, "Oh, this is something else that feels good and puts me in tune with my body". Also, running, bike rides, things like that. You can do these things with your wife if she's up for it, or by yourself and use it as a time to get centered and focus on you, outside of the framework of you + her.
posted by booknerd at 9:37 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

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