Tell Me About It: I don’t know what to do. It feels like I’m not that attractive to her
My wife and I have been married for 49 years, but now it seems to be on a rocky road. We have no sex life like we use to. I had a hip replacement four years ago and I’m still having issues walking. My wife keeps saying: “Give me what I want, and I will give you what you want.” She is depriving me of sex.
I don’t know what to do. It feels like I’m not that attractive to her.
We know that couples who are together for a very long time often know less about their partner than those who are starting out in relationship. This is largely because of the wish for a quiet life, and this can mean we don’t trouble ourselves to inquire into the partner’s wishes as we feel we know already, or we don’t let them know we don’t like something for fear of having to talk about it.
You say you’ve been married for 49 years and now have little intimacy or closeness in your relationship. If you want to address this, you’ll need to change your attitude and your approach. In your letter, you only speak about your loss and deprivation and nothing about what your wife might want from her life. Sex is not a right, it has to be consented to and negotiated between people and the process of doing this is actually part of the seduction. Your body has been through a hip replacement and is struggling with activity so it could do with some attention and delight, but perhaps sex is only part of what might provide joy and aliveness.
Your wife seems to be saying that she has needs that are not being met so perhaps the two of you could begin to be interested in finding out what the other finds sensual and pleasurable (this may or may not include sex for her). This will not happen without conversation and investigation, and at the moment the major block seems to be resentment and fear of rejection.
You have been together for 49 years, now it is time to commit to rediscovering what is delightful for your partner and also for yourself
Feeling attractive is a core factor in allowing desire to grow and deepen and there is a huge confidence boost in knowing that your partner finds you attractive. You want your wife to find you attractive but an essential part of that is signalling that you find her desirable and that you enjoy her company. If you fake this it will only lead to more conflict, so find ways of re-connecting that gives life to a sense of romance: send text messages or flowers and suggest outings that encourage the senses (such as coffees/meals in beautiful places, nice food, music etc). When you are focused on her, you have much more opportunity to ignite a sense of possibility than if you are inward looking – when you are more likely to see negativity and what is not happening.
Couples can enjoy sensuality and sex for as long as their bodies allow pleasure, but this can be a challenge if there are physical issues to overcome. These issues can include body limitations due to illness or surgery but also issues to do with desire, reaching orgasm and self-criticism. What was once easy and pleasurable might need re-assessment and adjustment and you will have to be led by what your body tells you in combination with what your partner’s body is communicating.
This requires a willingness to be vulnerable and open to each other and you cannot take this for granted. Can you express your fears and your concerns (about never feeling attractive again) to your wife, can you inquire what it is like for her to be in this relationship without intimacy? These are the starting points for the path to affection and trust, which are a precursor to closeness and sex. You might find that this openness leads to increasing levels of connection and satisfaction for you both. As it has been a long time since sex has happened, you might try a gradual approach to sensuality. This involves agreeing that penetration is off the table as you both explore what your bodies enjoy in terms of pleasure, and it is better if this is done in slow and steady measures. Maybe start with neck and shoulder areas and use massage oils and also include music and low lights that encourage less self-consciousness. If your partner trusts that you are willing to have a slow exploration, the trust and enjoyment can be a joint discovery, but you will need to be patient and have faith in the process.
You have been together for 49 years, now it is time to commit to rediscovering what is delightful for your partner and also for yourself. There is nothing to lose. The starting point is your attitude so drop the resentment and open up to curiosity and vulnerability.