‘Tragic reason I can’t have sex’
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 tackles a woman struggling with sex since the tragic death of her son, a man who can't stop checking his wife's messages and a woman who can't get excited about Tinder.
I HAVEN'T WANTED SEX SINCE OUR SON DIED
QUESTION: My husband and I have been married for nearly 29 years. Our son was diagnosed at age 13 with a terminal illness. I gave up everything at that point to fight to save his life. My husband did everything he could to keep our family afloat while I travelled the world with our son to try and save him. Six years later (three years ago) our son died aged 21 in an ICU in the USA where I had fought beside him for seven months. My husband and our other son had stayed in Australia to hold everything together.
I have PTSD in relation to our son's extended death.
In the three years since his death, I am not at all interested in sex. My husband occasionally attempts to initiate sex but I rarely reciprocate. I feel so guilty that I am not interested. We are still focused on our family but now it is just the three of us - our other son has a disability and will probably never move out of home. If I had a choice I would be happy to never have sex again but I feel guilty as I know this is not fair on my husband.
What can we do?
ANSWER: I'm so sorry to hear about the illness and death of your son. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult that must be for you and the entire family.
Firstly, I hope you're getting adequate support for the PTSD you're experiencing - this includes ongoing support from a professional. I highly recommend continued support from a therapist who specialises in supporting people with trauma. This needs to be addressed as a priority. It's going to take time to move on from this. There is no normal for you to go back to, this will be about finding your way in a changed world.
I'm sure you're well aware of the ways PTSD impacts you but it also impacts your relationships with others. For many suffers of PTSD, forming close relationships with others is difficult and you may experience symptoms that place pressure on existing relationships.
You also have an increased chance of experiencing sexual challenges. Your body will struggle to feel sexual arousal when it's in a high stress state or recovering from trauma. Our body is just not physically designed for it. It's not surprising that you're not feeling sexual desire at the moment.
If you set sex aside for a moment, what other areas of the relationship might need working on?
I'm wondering if you're aware of other ways PTSD and the difficulty of the last 10 years is affecting you and your husband? Are there other ways this is impacting your relationship and sense of intimacy together?
How is your husband coping with the grief and difficulties of the past few years? I imagine this has taken a toll on him also. Is he also seeking his own support?
Is your intimate life together something you've been able to have a conversation about? It may be helpful for you to hear what sex means to him and why he wants to feel close to you in this way. It may also be helpful for him simply to be able to express it.
My suggestion would be to work on other aspects of connection and closeness. Are there other things you can do to feel close and connected? This might include opening up the communication you have together and starting to find your sense of being a couple again.
Then introduce physical touch slowly, in ways that feel good for both of you. Such as cuddling, stroking or kissing.
Introduce your sexual connection slowly, once the other areas feel more solidified and when you're experiencing reduced symptoms of PTSD. Instead of seeing sex as something you need to do for him, consider seeing it as something that expresses the love you have for each other.
I CAN'T STOP CHECKING MY WIFE'S PHONE
QUESTION: As far as I know, my wife has never cheated on me - so why do I still feel the impulse to check her text messages if they pop up on her phone while she's out of the room? And how can I stop?
ANSWER: There are a couple of things that might be going on here.
Either there is something going on with your wife that you're sensing, or there's some deeper lack of security for you in relationships playing out here.
Is your wife acting in ways that give you cause for concern or is this something that seems to be coming from you?
Examine your relationship history. What was your parents (or early caregivers') relationship like? Do you have difficulty trusting people or have a history feeling like your relationships aren't secure?
Instead of acting immediately on your anxiety by checking her phone, seek out techniques that help you manage these moments in other ways, such as deep breathing and mindfulness.
I JUST CAN'T GET EXCITED ABOUT TINDER
QUESTION: I've dated some lovely men I met on dating apps so far this year, but just can't get excited about any of them. I have an OK time on our dates, but have no burning desire to see any of them again - what is wrong with me?
ANSWER: I'm not getting the full picture of what's going on here, so I have more questions than answers.
Have you dated men before that you have been excited about, or is this an ongoing pattern for you? Has something happened that's impacted how you feel about men and relationships now? Or have you never really been excited about people you've dated? Finding the origins of this is important.
Is there something about your life that you're feeling lacklustre about that is being reflected in your dating life?
Is there a common theme with these men? It's possible you're simply choosing men who genuinely don't excite you. In which case, I suggest trying men who don't fit your regular 'type'.
Or are your expectations of these men unrealistic? Great relationships can start without fireworks.
If you have a question for Isiah, email firstname.lastname@example.org