‘I suggested an open relationship. Now I fear my husband has fallen in love’

After a car crash left her struggling with sex she suggested her husband sleep with others

PROBLEM: I have been married to my husband for over 25 years, and we have two adult children. After eight years of marriage, I was in a dreadful car crash and suffered life-changing injuries. The driver of the other car was over the legal alcohol limit and died instantly.

It was a terrible time and whilst the physical pain was difficult to deal with, the psychological trauma was almost unbearable. I never returned to work and need support with almost every task including using the toilet and bathing. My husband and our children are wonderful and have always been an amazing support. I also have a carer who has become a very close friend. Myself and my husband have not had sexual intercourse once since the accident, we have tried but it is nearly impossible, and I found the efforts we made both painful and embarrassing.

We have had intimate moments, but in the past decade these have been non-existent. Our marriage however remained strong. About six years ago I suggested that we should have an open relationship meaning that my husband could have sex with other people. He was angry and hurt that I would make such a recommendation, but I knew that he needed an outlet and after about a year, he asked me if it would be okay if he had sex with other people. I agreed and I only made two specific ground rules that any relationships would remain casual and that he wouldn’t pay for sex. He has never told me about any of his encounters, but over the years he has stayed away from home for a couple of nights at a time.

Of course this is not easy for me, but I know it is the right thing. However, in the past 12 months I have observed that he is making an extra special effort when he goes on nights out and his stays away from home have become more regular. I also noticed on bank and credit card statements that he has been buying gifts of perfume and expensive clothes. He has always been affectionate towards me, but he has become a bit more distant. I know he is dating, but I am terrified he has fallen in love with someone else.

I realise now that he is not the kind of man that would just have casual sex. I cannot bear the thoughts of losing him, but I do not want to keep him trapped if he would prefer to live a life with someone else.

ADVICE: Your relationship has such a strong base it is possible you can put it through one more challenge – that of engaging with each other fully about what is happening right now. It was love that inspired such devotion from your husband for all those years and love that allowed you to offer him the chance of sexual intimacy with other people when you were struggling. However, that offering was based on the premise that you would be sure of the number-one place you would hold in his life and that is now under threat.

It sounds as though you have just woken up to the fact that the man who was so unselfishly supportive of you is also the man who would not be having casual sex as he is not the kind of person to keep his heart out of his behaviour. The same reason you love him is also now the block in your relationship.

Is there really any other choice other than to have a heartfelt conversation about all of this?

This conversation needs to include some reflection on your own needs to feel physical pleasure and desire. It sounds as though pain and embarrassment put a complete block on any consideration of your own body’s sensual concerns but the discussion should not only be about your husband’s needs, but yours too. Of course, pain is a complete turn off, but it is possible to have satisfying sex and intimacy without penetration and if the focus could be on pleasure, and the senses, then the body can find delight in many ways. The problem is that this sensual satisfaction has been located outside the relationship and now you are feeling that distance and it is a lonely place to be.

It is time to be very clear and upfront about what you want – a full, intimate and complete relationship where you will challenge your own vulnerability and risk exposing your own desires. Previously you did the thinking for your husband in that you came up with a solution for his sexual needs and it would be a mistake to do this again, even if you were inspired by love. He is responsible for his own actions and even if he engaged in outside sexual relations with your full permission, he is capable of reflection and knows the effect on his marriage. It may well be too late, as you suspect, but you both have enough respect for each other to speak honestly about where you have arrived at and what the future might hold for both of you.

You have a lot of support in your life: your children, your carer and friend plus you have had years of love and devotion, so do not underestimate the solid ground that has been created. Start the conversation and this time begin with your needs and put them at the top of the agenda.