My wife and I have been married for 32 years. We've had our fair share of good times and bad, and have two wonderful children who both graduated from respectable universities.
I have noticed my diminished desire for sex, and increasingly less romance and attraction in our marriage. There is no advancement by my wife to make love. I take sildenafil tablets sometimes and we have very boring sex, and move on.
One of the anxiety factors that I have is a long time observation that my wife is always very, very close emotionally to her girlfriends. So much so that she gets emotionally upset if one of them behaves negatively or mean toward her. She dresses up for social events and moves with her girlfriends rather than mix it up with the guys. We are 58 and 54 respectively, and brought up in a very conservative society.
I am puzzled if my wife is bisexual, but unbeknownst to me so far?
Dear Puzzled Partner,
It sounds like from the outside, you and your wife have a wonderful relationship for the kind of communities you were brought up in. You’ve been together for many years through all the obstacles life brings. You’ve raised two children who followed the path you laid out for them, presumably in hopes that they may create their own fulfilled and independent lives.
From the outside, it seems that things make sense — but it’s very clear that on the inside, the dynamics of the relationship exist in a vortex of confusion and anxiety and self-doubt.
From the beginning of this column, I’ve expressed that the concept of the “best sex ever” doesn’t exist. “Boring” sex can be explosive, while sex with dozens of tricks can be stale. Sex with a partner, just like anything else, is about communication. You and your wife are not communicating with each other.
There are multiple layers to this silence. One is the generation and type of community you grew up in — articles like this one weren’t really available, let alone accessible, when you and your wife were learning how to be partners. The cultural heaviness of where and how you grew up is another factor that may not have taught either of you to express your emotions, or allowed you to feel it was OK. There are generations and centuries of multiple oppressions to unpack to get to why you are writing to me instead of communicating all of these things directly with your partner.
The wonderful news is that you’re writing me. You’re aware that things aren’t feeling good, and although you’re reaching out for validation to quell your anxieties, for you, it seems this is the best way you know how to begin coming closer to your wife.
You’ve asked me to help lessen the idea that your wife may be bisexual, as if this is the reason why she hasn’t been initiating sex with you. The only person that can answer that for you is your wife. It is not for anyone else to guess for her, except for her. She may be attracted to women and not be ready to admit it to herself, considering the environment she grew up in. She may be attracted to women and not feel safe to share it with you. She may not be attracted to women at all.
Having deeply emotional relationships with friends is important and healthy. Her choice to be close with women also reflects her culture and generation. If she was having intimate emotional connections with men, it seems like you probably wouldn’t be OK with it either. She has strong bonds with the women in her life, and it makes a lot of sense that if a friend is mean to her, she’ll be upset. Who wouldn’t be? This is a radical thought for some communities, even American ones, but you as a husband are not, and should never want to be, the sole source of her emotional support. It is clear that you both don’t communicate, so it is obvious that she would seek a deep level of communication and connection from her friends. This is healthy, and nothing to shame her about.
You readily make the connection between emotional closeness and sexuality in this instance, which is interesting because you and your wife seem to be experiencing canyons of emotional disconnection, and at the same time, not connecting sexually.
“Society often teaches us that we all — but especially men — should be interested in sex forever,” Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and sex columnist at Bustle, tells Salon. “But reality doesn't always match up. If you and your wife aren't having sex because you're not interested in having sex, then that's only a problem if you view it as a problem.”
You claim to have boring sex. Your wife isn’t inspired to have it, and you are feeling yourself pull away from her as well. Your body’s decrease in general sexual desire is normal — you are getting older and your body’s testosterone levels are changing. This is common and nothing to be alarmed about. You can witness it, make peace with it, and invite your changing body into all the new experiences you’re having because of it — but your age is only one piece of this.
You don’t have an open line of communication with your wife which manifests into many anxieties for you. You are threatened by her friendships, worried she isn’t attracted to you, and feel rejected that she doesn’t make the first move. All of this is enough to drive anyone to feel less sexual towards their partner, and less sexual in general. Anxiety can make it very difficult to want to be in the moment and experience pleasure.
In one of my previous relationships, my partner’s greatest anxiety and fear was me leaving him for a woman. It made him feel endlessly inadequate, and he was terrified that he might lose me because he was a man. When I came out to him, it was his greatest fear realized. I wanted to be with him — I didn’t want to be with anyone else, I just needed him to see me for all that I was. When I finally told him, I felt a lightness and a freeness I had never felt in our relationship before. I felt like I could finally be me, and my attraction for him exponentially magnified. Whereas before I didn’t want to initiate sex, I was, for the first time, so excited to. I felt connected in a way I had never experienced with him before. We ultimately broke up shortly after, for many reasons, but I do think his resistance to looking at his own fears around my identity was the trigger for it.
Whatever your wife’s sexual identity is, it should not be something that you feel threatened by.
“Your wife could be bisexual,” says McGowan. “But being bisexual doesn't mean she's going to sleep with women if she's in a monogamous relationship with you. Plenty of bisexual people are in relationships with one gender or another and never have sex outside of the relationship.”
If you love her, you love her for all of her — everything that she is, and everything she will become. It doesn’t have to be comfortable for you, but you can not control her. She deserves to exist fully as who she is, whoever that is. She is in a relationship with you — focus on that first. You’ve been spending so much attention and energy on who she dresses up for and who she hangs out with, but it doesn’t seem like you’re spending much energy on actually putting in the work to make the relationship between you and her better.
“If you want to increase sex and romance in your relationship with your wife, then it's time to get creative,” McGowan says. “Rather than automatically turning to a pill to get hard, try working on intimacy with your wife. Tell her you want to cuddle and watch a romantic movie. Ask her what's been on her mind. Go out to dinner once a month. Sex is about more than just a hard penis and a willing vagina. It's also about intimate connection, which it sounds like your marriage is currently lacking.”
Why don’t you try holding space for your wife? Why don’t you try becoming part of her emotional support system? Earn her trust so that she can present herself fully to you, and share with you pieces of herself she’s probably been hiding from you most of her life. Ask her what she needs to feel supported by you. Let her feel safe with you to want to initiate sex. Let her know it’s OK, and she has every right, to not want to have sex.
When you begin getting physically intimate, ask her what she likes. She may not know, and let her know that’s OK. You can softly suggest to her that spending time touching herself alone will help her learn.
Be there for your partner, instead of assuming she’s not even interested in being on your team. Show up for her and communicate with her. Express to her your feelings. You can even blame me and read this article to her out loud. Show her how scared you are, and be willing to confront your own fear. Show her that you’re trying to be brave, and are committed to making the situation better by asking for help. Ask her to meet you there in that vulnerability. Make a plan for next steps — perhaps it’s going to individual and couples therapy, perhaps it’s committing to a date night each week, perhaps it’s sitting across from each other asking how your day went.
Commit to each other, again and again. That’s a relationship.
Do you need advice about sex, dating, love, relationships? Ask Arielle@Salon.com