‘My wife has a long-term illness and we have not had sex in almost 14 years’

Tell Me About It: ‘I am sad all the time and frustrated at the total lack of romance or sex in my life ’


I miss sex. My wife has a long-term illness and I really miss being close to someone. We have not had sex in almost 14 years. We met when we were in school and started a relationship soon after that, so she is the only person I’ve had sex with, and this makes it almost impossible for me to think of getting together with someone else.

I’ve always had the idea of being loyal to my partner, but the longing is getting almost unbearable. I don’t talk to my wife about this, originally this was because I thought it was unfair to be making her feel responsible for my sexual needs and, as time has gone on, it feels impossible to bring up the topic and I cannot imagine doing it now. She is often in pain and has been very stoical about it. I don’t know if she has any sense of desire herself, but I think any relief or pleasure she gets in life is when the medication gives her a few hours of relief.

Our family (three young people in various stages of school and university) are all doing well and have no idea of the struggle I have, and I feel that I should be grateful that everything is as good as it is. I worry that I will break down as I notice that I well up during a romantic movie or I become chocked up at sad news on TV. This is not what a father should be like, but I have no one to turn to.

My friends are all great people, but we have never talked about our relationships, and I cannot imagine bringing it up. I think some of them have noticed though as I’ve been asked if I am okay. I’m clearly not, I am sad all the time and frustrated at the total lack of romance or sex in my life. What to do?


You say you cannot imagine talking to your wife or talking to your friends, yet this is clearly on your mind and may well be exactly where your attention should be going. Sometimes the area that we protest the most is pointing out to us the direction that might work – the hard way. You clearly value loyalty but life partners need to face difficult things together, and you and your wife have managed to raise a family amid serious illness so you may be much more robust than you think. However, you don’t just want sex but closeness too and this presents a serious challenge to your relationship. That you feel sexual and romantic desire demonstrates that you are alive and now find the space and time to allow it to surface and the idea of burying it again does not seem to be a workable option.

When someone in a relationship becomes chronically ill, the relationship can transform into one where the love is expressed in terms of protection and support and over time the passion can be submerged. Both people can feel the loss of this intensely: one person may feel that their illness becomes their defining characteristic and the other that they cannot express their desires for fear of overburdening their partner. Neither want to cause undue upset and so the pattern of communication becomes limited and perhaps both suffer as a result. Intimacy comes in many forms and one obvious one is to share your internal life with your partner, even if the cost is tears and upset.

We often assume we know exactly how another person will react, but we are not mind-readers and we all deserve the opportunity to respond and explain from our own position. Could you and your wife put some time aside for this? Is it possible to tell her that you have planned a weekend away (even if it is to a local hotel so that medical support is nearby), or put in place some arrangement that will give you both quality time in a fresh setting, so that you can talk about your lives together.

She may be ill, but she is also a full partner in this relationship and may have a perspective that you find interesting or challenging. Perhaps both of you could put three to four topics on a card that you think are up for discussion – you will need to be brave and clearly list sex and romantic closeness. You will have the whole weekend as your wife may need periods of rest and recovery, but all topics should be given time and attention so perhaps agree to three a day. Now is the time to be courageous, so do not flinch from the programme as you may find a new way of relating and unthought of possibilities opening up.

You might also tell a close friend of this endeavour and see what support and wisdom arises from this disclosure. All intimacy and closeness involve the risk of vulnerability and speaking to a friend will help you practise having a conversation about an intimate matter. Sexual and romantic desire are valid, whether you are ill, have no partner or where life interferes, so give voice to your experience and see where this takes you.