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"My Wife Feels Sex is Optional"

QUESTION: Since our son's birth, my wife has had almost no libido. She works long hours at her job and then comes home, changes into her grubbiest sweats, eats dinner and watches TV or reads until bedtime. Then she wants to sleep -- not cuddle, kiss or make love. Though our son's birth was difficult, I can't pin down her newfound puritan attitude. She thinks sex is messy, painful, lewd and totally optional. Before giving birth she very much enjoyed making love, but since then, we've rarely had sex. She refuses to talk about it. Any tips?

ANSWER: A marriage is not a unilateral agreement. It is a shared vision. Your wife's refusal to discuss what is bothering you is dangerous to the marriage. This kind of non-communication is stonewalling, a particularly toxic form of non-negotiation that is linked with potential for divorce at worst, and damage to the quality of your relationship at best.

Either way, it is imperative to the health of your relationship that you express your need to communicate with her about this topic. Let her know that it is not acceptable for her to cut-off from you emotionally in this manner. Tell her your feelings about whether or not sex is "optional" in your marriage. It is very important that your needs be discussed and communicated until you can come to some compromise or understanding as to how this change has come about, and what your shared vision of marriage is now, and in the future.

Perhaps your wife is feeling powerless in some way in the relationship and would better be able to express herself with a professional counselor. Be sensitive to her wishes regarding this, but insist that you need to have a safe place to discuss your feelings with her. Becoming parents may have had a profound psychological impact on your relationship in general and how she experiences her sexuality with you. Working a full time job and/or changes in her body following the birth should also be explored for any impact on her experience of sexuality. Physical pain related to intercourse should also be addressed with her obstetrician or midwife to rule out any physical problems. Discuss whether the childbirth experience itself could have changed her attitudes or feelings about making love to you. If so, she should seek counseling for traumatic stress associated to this.

However, it is also true that relationships do change when children are born due to the transition itself. The changes that have taken place since the birth of your son may need further exploration. Partners often feel a loss of their old relationship but have trouble expressing these feelings because they feel guilty about negative thoughts associated to parenthood. Losing a connection with one another and not discussing it creates more painful distance. But women and men also have different approaches to psychological . Perhaps you are reaching out to make contact with her sexually and she needs to connect with you in some other way before she feels ready to make love. This is a common difference for men and women. Men may wish to make love to get close, while women may feel that they need to get close to make love. Exploring broader relationship issues may be the key that opens the bedroom door again.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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