Welcome to our new Q&A series with Dr. Claire Nicogossian. Find more about about this column and how you can submit a question to Dr. Claire at the bottom of this post.
Dear Dr. Claire,
My husband and I have been married for nine years and have two children, a three-year-old and five-year-old. My husband works long hours and travels; I am in charge of the kids from morning until night during the week. When he's home and on the weekend, my husband wants to have sex, and I have no interest, at all. My husband is getting frustrated with the lack of sex and I'm pretty annoyed with how every time he offers to rub my feet or give me a back rub, it's how he initiates sex. I could live without sex. I am exhausted and just want to sleep or be by myself. How can I get my husband to understand I'm just not interested in sex right now? I'd prefer to sleep.
-Lost Libido and OK with it.
Dear Lost Libido,
Your days are quite full and demanding. I understand how caring for children and being the sole parent most of the week depletes your energy leaving you exhausted with no energy for anything but sleep.
Libido, or sexual desire, is the willingness and interest to engage in sexual activity. Individuals have different levels of sexual desire based on many things: stress, lifestyle, medications, mental health, hormonal functioning, and individual differences, which is a way of saying "just how you are." There is a range of what is considered "healthy" for sexual desire. However, when a person has no sexual desire, it usually signals a deeper concern, chronic stress, depression, anxiety or physical health issues.
When couples have different levels of sexual desire, as you describe in your marriage with one person having no sexual desire and the other having moderate sexual desire, the result is tension and sexual intimacy issues.
But you don't need me to tell you that, you are living it right now. First this is not simply an issue with you. When a couple is having sexual problems, it's not the "fault" of one person. Instead, it is a couple's problem.
Based on your description of your life, you have an extraordinary amount of stress and responsibility taking care of your children. I also hear something else though; you and your husband don't seem to be connecting emotionally.
Are you and your husband emotionally supportive to one another during the week? Do you talk on the phone, skype-how do you both connect during the week? When you do talk with one another, what do you talk about? Is it the children, finances, household tasks, what I call the "reporting" of what happened during the day? It's important to talk about those details and balance time connecting emotionally with one another. I would encourage you both to set aside time daily where you can talk and share with one another meaningful detail of the day and give/receive support with one another.
I also want you to ask yourself the following question: "What do I need from my husband to reduce the stress of solo parenting during the week?" Find one or two concrete behaviors he can do; for example, maybe he can grocery shop on the weekend and prep a couple of meals for the week when he is away. If this doesn't sound like something he would be willing to do, then find something he can do or let him decide how he can help alleviate the household demands during the week.
On the weekend, let your husband take over for a couple of hours and take some time for yourself. I'm sure your husband is tired from the week of travel and work, but he's also has been disconnected physically from the family unit and you have been in charge all week. You need time to replenish and restore your energy. Instead of filling your time with errands or chores, spend the time doing something just for you. I imagine you may choose to sleep in your free time based on how exhausted you have been. But also consider going for a walk or doing an activity you enjoy doing but haven't had the time to do. Go to a movie, spend time with friends, sit and read in a park, exercise, and come up with other ways restore your energy.
It's also going to be important to talk with your husband about your lack of sexual desire. You and your husband will have to work together to find solutions to improve sexual intimacy. One "red flag" in your description is that every neck or back rub is the way your husband initiates sex. I see this often in counseling-when physical touch leads to sexual intimacy. What ends up happening is a great deal of frustration because sometimes one partner just wants physical touch without it leading to sex. It's important for couples to have non-sexual touch. Which means that a neck rub or a hug need to be just that, a physical expression of affection. Let your husband know that you want a neck rub just to be a neck rub. Find other ways to communicate how you both would like to plan and initiate sex.
I want you to work on getting enough sleep. Make sure you are on a sleep routine and getting enough sleep each night. You describe being exhausted at the end of most days. Libido decreases with sleep deprivation, chronic stress, depression, and anxiety. If you address all of the suggestions above and continue to have no sexual desire, I would recommend talking with your primary care physician or seeking the support of a therapist to talk about your low libido and to work on strategies as a couple to improve sexual intimacy.
I hope these suggestions help you.