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My Wife Won't Make Love - Agony Aunt

Ask Anne

Dear Anne

Over the last two to three years my wife has rejected any advance. Most times she claims to be too tired or not in the mood, but she often uses sex as a bargainning tool when DIY jobs need doing, never actually fulfilling the agreement. I try to do as much of the housework as possible to help, cooking,cleaning, ironing and caring for the children so that she isn't overtired. But to no avail. Recently I turned to the internet for a sex life. Realising this isn't the way foraward and might cause upset and heartache if discovered, I didn't go through with it. I am at my wits' end and have asked my wife to seek professional help with me. Her response is always to move the subject away by distraction. I have tried various books but she won't read them. She doesn't allow me to touch her, caress her or comfort her in any way. Gifts of flowers are treated with suspicion if they're not from a reputable florist. I am confused as she says she loves me and doesn't want a divorce and that I should be patient. If you can suggest any professional help I would be gratfeul. Nitram

Dear Nitram

I'm sorry you and your wife have been coming at lovemaking from different angles, as it were. You say it's happened over the last two or three years so I assume things were OK in the bedroom before that. I wonder what happened at the beginning of that time? Was that, perhaps, when the children were born? Or did you and she have some major argument? Has she become more pressured at work or in some other area? Or could it be that things have more or less always been this way but it's now become more definite? If you can think of any circumstance which might have triggered this reaction in your wife, could resolving the problems around that circumstance help?

It's great that you are willing to do a fair share around the house and with your kids, but I wonder how that fits in with her feeling that using sex as a lure will get those DIY jobs done? Do you and she often make bargains or empty promises rather than feeling able to say what you each want? The reason I'm asking is that you say she won't let you touch her at all. If she felt safe and accepted, I'm wondering why that would be, especially if this is a change from earlier days in your relationship. I'm not making accusations here, just wondering what might be behind her avoidance even of talking about the subject. Avoidance of issues is usually about either protecting oneself or about protecting the other person, in this case, you.

Could it be worth your asking your wife, "When you won't talk about making love, are you trying to protect me or you?" Have you asked her if there's anything she's scared of or put off by? If there were something and she were able to tell you, would you be able to help her with it by forming an alliance to deal with "our problem" or would you take it as a personal affront and say it's all her fault? If she offers a distraction, how about saying, "Yes, but we can talk about that later. For now let's work out what's happening between us."

I don't have enough information because you don't either to offer much more than these speculative starting-points. I do know that blame won't work, and that as you suspect, turning to pornography or internet sex will just make things worse between you. It's often true that what you put into the rest of your relationship determines you get out of your love-life, so I'm wondering whether you and she can be emotionally open with one another in other areas. Building intimacy could help if it is a relationship difference that's at the bottom of this. Have you tried saying, "I feel hurt and rejected when you won't kiss me or cuddle me. Are you willing to share a cuddle? Is there anything you need that will make it OK for you to cuddle me?" Sometimes people can become afraid that any contact such as cuddles will inevitably lead to sex, so I hope that you can say that cuddles are just cuddles when it's appropriate as that might reassure her and could stop her feeling used, if that's what's at the bottom of her reluctance. Do you tell her how you feel about things, and ask how she feels? If you're able to be more emotionally intimate, that could well invite her to be more intimate too, first on an emotional plane and then on a physical one.

The other possibility that I mentioned, that she's always had this reluctance but has now settled more firmly into it, would be about her rather than you. Perhaps something unpleasant happened to her when she was younger and sex reminds her of it. If that's the case, she still needs your sympathy and support. You could invite her to visit the website at www.rapecrisis.co.uk , and let her know that you still find her acceptable, lovable and desirable. You could reassure her that you'll be there for her and help her find a way through her difficulties.

Whatever the cause, couples counselling could well provide an answer. If your wife is reluctant to go, you could profitably have a few sessions on your own. I do feel your wife is telling the truth when she says she loves you and doesn't want a divorce. Love and sex don't have to be the same thing. But at some point in the future, if she continues not to address the issue, you might decide to tell her if you're willing to continue a relationship where there's no touching and no love-making. I wish you and her all the best with this.

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