Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred.
This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie helps a woman in a sexless and lonely marriage.
QUESTION: I’ve been married for 34 years and I’ve brought it up with my husband that I feel lonely and alone even though there is a lot of life around me.
We have completely disconnected sexually – it has been 20 years since we last had sex. I love him but I don’t really like him most of the time and I don’t know what to do. I have allowed him to do whatever he wants – golf trips, away football games – and he works very hard.
I always thought we were equals and he says we definitely are but I feel like a housewife. What can I do to stop feeling lonely?
ANSWER: Feeling lonely in a relationship is one of the worst kinds of loneliness. Your partner is supposed to be ‘your person’, someone you can rely on and share everything with. It’s painful and confusing when they’re no longer that someone for you.
While you could try to ease your loneliness by increasing your connections outside your relationship, I think that’s going to be unsatisfying in the long run. You really need to ask yourself some bigger questions about your relationship here.
Relationships are made – and broken – in small moments
Most relationships don’t end because of big arguments or betrayals. They end because two people ‘grow apart’ and they end up feeling disconnected from each other. From your description, it sounds like you’re two people living very separate lives under the same roof.
Disconnection often begins slowly, without you even noticing. Life gets busy, you focus on goals together, like raising your kids and trying to juggle life. You stop spending as much time together, you stop going out and having fun. Especially, if you have different communication styles, you might stop sharing what you’re really feeling because you don’t want to start an argument – or you know you won’t get a response anyway.
These small moments where you don’t share and reach out to each other become disconnection. It takes effort to reconnect and build an intimate relationship again.
Relationships can overcome significant distress
I’ve seen many couples who weren’t sure if they wanted to stay together when they first started seeing me. Some weren’t sure if it was even possible for them to overcome the hurt and resentment they were feeling towards each other.
But with the right support, relationships can often find their way back together. My clients often tell me that as a result of couples therapy, their relationship is better than it ever was.
But overcoming deep challenges and distance in a relationship requires commitment from both partners to improve. I’m not going to tell anyone that building a stronger relationship is easy – it is not. Therapy can help. Making change is certainly easier with support. But it does take time and effort.
Sadly, it can sometimes be too hard for couples to find their way back after years of disconnection.
Can you tolerate this for the rest of your life?
You sound like you’ve been living separate lives for a long time – more like housemates (and perhaps co-parents) than intimate partners. Not being sure if you even like him also makes me question if you’re still aligned on your values or if resentment has built up between you.
You need to ask yourself some important questions about how you’d like to go ahead.
Can you tolerate living in this situation for the rest of your life?
If the answer to this question is no, then you really have two options – separate or try to improve it.
Is this a relationship that you think is worth trying to improve?
If you think there’s still enough care and love between you that you’d both be willing to work on this, I highly recommend you reach out to a couples therapist and get support. Right now, you’re disconnected emotionally and sexually – that’s a lot to try to improve by yourself.
Sometimes, we can find more happiness single
If you don’t think it can be improved – or your husband isn’t willing to speak to someone, I think you really need to consider if you’d actually be happier creating a life on your own. A life where you might meet someone who values you, wants to connect with you and is willing to be intimate with you.
Life doesn’t end when your relationship does. For many people it’s the start of rediscovering their happiness again.
Isiah McKimmie is a couples therapist, sexologist, sex therapist and lecturer. To book a session with her, visit her website or follow her on Instagram for more advice on relationships, sex and intimacy.
If you have a question for Isiah, email firstname.lastname@example.org