Question: Is no sex better than bad sex?
I have been married for five years now, but we have been having lots of problems. One mega problem is that we don't have sex. We manage to go for more than a year without it. I'm tired of complaining, and I'm growing to despise him. He's a great man and a friend, but a terrible lover. Please help.
I'm really so sorry to hear about your situation. Telling you that you are not alone in this situation and that there are many other couples who experience the same frustration as you doesn't make your situation easier either.
It's never easy to be in a relationship which is supposed to bring you happiness and fulfilment but seems to do the exact opposite, bringing disappointment, frustration and anger.
You probably feel that you have tried without success, and now you feel drained, you've given your all and it hasn't worked, so why bother anymore?
Giving in may seem to be the only answer, but I want to encourage you not to give up, even if it seems like it's too late.
Don't give up
It's clear you want your marriage to work and have not chosen the optional route of divorce. I also want to tell you that I think you have great courage to take the initiative to resolve the situation.
Taking responsibility for your relationship is rarely found and yet it is one of the most crucial elements in the successful restoration of relationships. Also, writing about something so personal isn't easy, but such is your desire to resolve the situation that you are trying whatever it takes.
I have to be frank with you and tell you that this column will not resolve this problem or help you sufficiently in dealing with this tough situation, it would be tantamount to cover a gaping wound with a band aid strip.
What makes it more difficult is that you have gone for counselling and it doesn't seem to have helped either?
A situation that has deteriorated to such an extent would need ongoing support, therapy and effort from you and your husband in conjunction with a professional to resolve.
It's not going to change overnight
It's also not going to change overnight so don't have unrealistic expectations. I would therefore recommend you to give yourself a year to 18 months before you can expect the situation to improve satisfactorily. This may seem long but if you look at the bigger picture of a lifetime of happiness in your marriage, then it will seem worth it.
You have admitted that your husband is a great man and if the two of you do work at it, you can have a great marriage, one that is intimate and personal, sexual as well as stimulating.
But, it's going to take lots of ongoing work and commitment from both of you. What I can do is give you some direction and guidelines.
Firstly, you have mentioned that you have these strong feelings of resentment and bitterness towards your husband. Before you even begin to deal with the sexual issues, you need to deal with these feelings.
Most women are more emotional about their sexuality than men and as a result, if you have negative feelings towards your husband, you have little chance of even mildly-stimulating sex.
There is a common analogy used to describe the differences between how a man and a woman perceive sexual advances.
If a man wants sex, he has to call his wife, charm her, invite her out for dinner, arrive at the front door with red roses (jewellery is also always useful), woo her continually during the evening, display impeccable manners, charm her, pay for supper and wine and take her home on time before commencing with the prescribed foreplay, and hopefully later, sex.
For a woman to want sex she has to pitch up at her man's door, unannounced, naked except for a coat and a six-pack of beers and she's bound to get it. It's amusing but true in that a woman needs to feel loved and valued, she needs to feel secure within the relationship in order for her to allow herself to be intimate.
So to think you're going to have great sex whilst you have these feelings is being unrealistic. You have been repeatedly hurt which has turned to anger and resentment. You will need to deal with these issues and have your security restored first. I would suggest seeing a therapist on your own to understand and deal with these pent-up emotions.
You must forgive
Secondly, and as part of the therapy, you will need to forgive your husband and let him back into your life. Forgiveness is paramount first up. A mentor of mine, Dr Rex Mathie defined forgiveness as giving up the right to hurt someone for hurting you. You need to do that first, to give up that right before you start working on your relationship.
Thirdly, keep reminding yourself of your acknowledgement that your husband is a good man and a great friend. You have identified that you still believe in him which is great and a good base to build from.
I can also tell you that if you were unable to recognise any good in your husband, then your situation would be very precarious indeed.
Perhaps you could see it like this? ask yourself this question: "Suppose you two were more sexual and that you enjoyed your intimate moments more regularly and that they were more stimulating?" Would you then be happily married?
If you can answer yes to this question, then essentially, you have one major problem area to address, knowing that it will result in a more satisfying, holistic and happy marriage.
Fourthly, and only once you have dealt with your anger and have forgiven your husband, you need to get him on your side so that the two of you see the problem as a joint problem and not just yours or his. Sit him down and explain to him how you love him and respect him and you want your marriage to be "more fulfilling".
Tread carefully here
Ask him for his input first, about how he feels and what his perceptions are. Listen to what he says. Then tell him how you feel and then both of you can come up with possible solutions. A good therapist can facilitate this process and enable the two of you to open the lines of communication about the problem. (A word of warning here? it's important for both of you to understand that the challenge must be faced without blame, without looking at the past and without finding fault. A man's ego is very vulnerable when it comes to sex and without coaching you can easily reverse the situation causing your husband to become resentful).
Finally, once the emotional foundations have been laid and you feel more secure in the relationship, and provided you are both on the same side tackling the problem together, you can begin to learn about each other's sexuality.
I firmly believe that many adults have little or no understanding of their partner's sexuality. But this can be a great opportunity to discover, learn and enjoy. Set time aside when the children are in bed with the lights dimmed but not off. Perhaps you can even go away for a weekend, just the two of you.
Learn to discover what arouses each other and talk to each other whilst discovering turn-ons and turn-offs. Talk about it and take your time getting to know each other from the beginning. You might want to get a book or even consult a sex therapist but take your time in your rediscovery. It'll be like starting over, like going on a second honeymoon. I wish you well.
Bruce Wademan is a FAMAC accredited mediator and counsellor. He studied counselling at BTC and Family Law at UNISA. The response to the question covers some of the issues in marriage and does not constitute advice. It is important to consult with a counsellor or therapist who through therapy will be able to provide comprehensive and appropriate advice.