Substitute for Sex?

Q: My marriage is mature (26 years) and my wife (nearly my age) is sensible, but my job (and lack of one lately, in construction) and typical life challenges (kids, bills piling up, aging parent) are seriously depleting the energy my wife can devote to our relationship. I often feel she would rather escape into a book or TV than love me as she did in the past. I realize pre-menopause means her natural interest in sex is waning, but mine is NOT reduced at all. I have tried "date nights," but it's like another burden heaped on her shoulders.

How can I feel she still loves me deeply, which she claims, when I get the impression I always come AFTER the kids, books, parties, TV, pets, etc. I strive to avoid feeling insulted or resentful. Are you aware of demonstrated effective replacements for the brain chemicals a man gets from sex? Personal stimulation or a younger wife are not options. -- Tom, 47

Dr. Susan: You've set up some tough parameters here, Tom. You want a safe replacement for the sexual chemicals that nature has provided for us to keep the species going. I don't know of any. If there were, I suspect a huge number of people would be on them. It's just not that easy. I'm glad you say a younger wife is not an option, but I'm sorry you can't find a place for personal stimulation. That has saved many a marriage and gotten both men and women through some hard times.

The obvious (albeit partial) remedy that comes to my mind, especially as you're out of a job, would be to take over as much of your wife's burdens as is humanly possible. That way she'd have time and energy (and lack of resentment) to be with you, while still leaving some time to escape into the easy pleasure of books and TV.

Perhaps more importantly, you and she need to talk about priorities for the rest of your lives. Some of what she does can be eliminated if it's interfering with your joint life goals. She could give fewer parties, have the kids care for the pets, and choose TV programs to watch together while snuggling pressure-free. The thing about women whose libidos are flagging is that they need to agree to allow themselves to let go a bit so arousal can happen. When that begins to happen, they're more likely to find their libido isn't dead after all.

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