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If there’s one topic marriage counsellors get asked about time and time again, it’s sex – or how to navigate the relationship when passion dries up.
This week’s reader dilemma comes from Stuart, who says he’s been “married for years” but is considering looking elsewhere for sex.
“I love my wife but there’s no sex and she doesn’t care to have it,” he says. “Can I seek what I crave outside the marriage? We both love each other and always have – just no sex!!”
This week, we’ve got not one but two therapists on hand to help.
What would you say to this reader?
“The word ‘can’ jumps out at me. It sounds like you are seeking permission and approval from others when it’s not needed,” says Counselling Directory member Siobhan Butt. “I wonder if the question is ‘how can I talk to my wife about having a non-monogamous relationship?’ or ‘This is something I want to consider but I’m concerned about being judged by others how can I avoid this?’
“The second thing I wonder about you and your wife is what is currently happening in your life? Is your wife under a lot of pressure from work, have you got young children, is she grieving or going through menopause? There are lots of things that affect your sex drive.”
Butt says that if Stuart explores these reasons with his wife, she may be more open sexually – although this should never be pressured. “Great sex is born out of great communication,” she adds.
What does he need to consider before seeking sex elsewhere?
Most of us assume relationships are monogamous unless otherwise stated, so Stuart is now faced with two options: cheating or broaching the possibility of polyamory with his wife. The first has huge potential for hurt and the second can be highly sensitive.
Therapeutic relationship counsellor Judy O’Brien asks whether Stuart is planning to have a discussion with his wife before seeking sex elsewhere.
“She may agree to you embracing another relationship for sex for fear of losing you. But, deep down she may not really feel comfortable about it, which could ultimately bring up resentment and conflict in the marriage,” she warns.
“However, your wife may well be in agreement and not be concerned at all about the non-monogamous relationship, as she might feel comforted knowing your needs are satisfied. Indeed, it may ease her guilt she may feel for being unable to share sexual relations with you.
“Talking it through is one option, which does involve a degree of risk. Perhaps only you know how your wife might react to the suggestion.”
Any practical advice for discussing non-monogamy?
O’Brien recommends approaching the topic “when you are both relaxed in a calm, non-confrontational way”. She says Stuart and his wife may want to see a relationship or a specialised sex therapist together, before making any big changes.
If sex outside of the marriage is something both are happy to consider, Butt says it’s vital to openly discuss boundaries.
“People assume that a non-monogamous relationship has no boundaries and you can do what you like but in fact the opposite is true,” she says. “Is oral sex ok, can you have sex with the same person more than once, is it ok to ‘date’ the other person and what about kissing? These are all things important to consider when thinking about what a non-monogamous relationship will look like for you and your wife.”
O’Brien adds that if Stuart were to embark on a relationship outside of the marriage, he needs to consider the potential emotional fallout for everyone involved – including this new person.
“What if you fall in love? What if she falls in love?” she asks. “A strong emotional attachment may develop which could compromise or influence how you feel about your wife. Unwanted emotional chaos and drama may arrive to seriously disrupt your lives.”
What other options does Stuart have?
Instead of looking for sex elsewhere, both therapists say discussing sex within the relationship should be the first step. Butt reassures Stuart – and all readers – that it is possible to reignite an extinguished flame if you’re both on the same page.
“It sounds like sex is important to you, but it doesn’t sound like it’s important to the relationship for you as you say you and your wife love each other very much,” she says. “But what would it look like to bring the sex and the relationship together and how can you explore this with your wife? How openly do you and your wife talk about sex?
“We’ve heard that you are considering seeking sex elsewhere but do you know what your wife would like to do sexually and what feels comfortable for her?
“Your sexual relationship can look however you and your wife decides it looks, it doesn’t have to conform to any norms at all. Go wild and explore your fantasies together, as long as you are both consenting and free to leave at any time, then there really are no limits to what you can do.”
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.
(Photo: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost UK)
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.