Q&A: how do I convince my husband I'm not having an affair, I'm just exhausted
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Q: I've been a mining wife for a few years now, we have two children and my husband does FIFO. My other half comes home expecting a happy little housewife who is instantly aroused at the sight of him, but this is rarely the case. He is now convinced that because I have no real desire to have intercourse, I must be getting it elsewhere while he's away... which is most definitely NOT the case! I've tried communicating the fact that life at home is always hectic. How do I get him to understand that him wanting to argue about us not having sex is doing more damage than good, and what can I do to dissolve the tension between us?
A: Hi and thanks so much for your question, which I'm sure will have many miner's wives nodding in agreement! The issue you raise (differing libidos) is certainly one that many couples experience. It's a problem that seems to grow and grow over time, leaving both partners confused, upset and frustrated with each other. The problem is really highlighted in relationships where one partner does FIFO because of the time pressure. Acknowledging that the FIFO lifestyle is contributing to the problem is not making an excuse, it's just being realistic. The pressure of needing to get into the mood and fit in three or four weeks’ of sex and intimacy in one week is huge! It would be good if you and your husband could acknowledge this in a matter-of-fact way, and then turn your attention to addressing the issue together.
First of all, it's important for both you and your partner to know that it is quite normal for you two to be experiencing difficulties in your sex life at this stage of your relationship. Although this fact might seem a little surprising (and even a little depressing!) it is true. The issues that you raise in your question are the reasons for this: young children, competing demands, tiredness etc. The more pressure you feel under, the worse it all seems. Rest assured (and let your husband know) that this issue is quite normal and says nothing at all about how much you love each other.
Secondly, I would like both you and your husband to know that differing libidos is a relationship issue and NOT the issue of the low libido partner (you) only. We often talk about differing libidos as though it's a given that the problem rests with the person who wants less sex. Now I'm not suggesting that the opposite is true (and that it is your husband who has the problem), just that the issue should be seen as sitting in the relationship, not in either of you. This is really important because setting the issue up as one person's problem just makes it harder to tackle and increases the tension, frustration, guilt and blame. What usually happens is that the person who wants less sex looks for ways to avoid it, which has the person who wants more sex looking for more ways to initiate it. The person who wants less sex is then left feeling hounded (and coming up with ways to avoid any possible situation where sex might come up) which has the other person bringing it up at every opportunity ... and on and so on. In the end what usually happens is that both partners miss out on any physical intimacy at all. For example, I have heard from so many low libido partners that they no longer kiss or hug their partner at all (EVER!) for fear that the action will be seen as a green light for sex (if not right now then definitely that night). Mining wives often tell me that they are guarded when greeting their partner, in case he "gets the wrong idea" and thinks that she wants intercourse that night, when it is the last thing she feels like! These behaviours lead to a certain coolness in interactions, which in turn can lead to suspicions of an affair or fears that the love has left the relationship.
So what to do? Well, the solution is simple, though not easy. It is not a solution for just you, but one that your husband needs to also participate in. Firstly, you initiate a conversation about your sex life, letting your husband know that a healthy sex life is important to you as it obviously is to him. If it's relevant, let him know that you have also been missing the physical touch of holding hands, kissing or hugging. And here comes the tricky bit: improving things in the bedroom starts with you agreeing to initiate sex sometimes, and your husband agreeing to lay off the pressure on you to have intercourse. It is important that you both start to re-build physical intimacy without you being worried that any form of touch will lead to the expectation of intercourse. For FIFO couples, I recommend that you have a discussion about how many times you will have sex while your partner is back, and then stick to it unless something unexpected or unplanned happens. This number needs to be negotiated and some compromise reached. I know that this means that neither of you is 100% happy but reaching and sticking to a compromise on this matter goes a long way to building trust, connection and intimacy in a relationship. I would advise you to stick to this plan (you initiating) for 3 months and see how things go.
Also, please know that having intercourse often is NOT the defining feature of a healthy sex/life connection. Respect, pleasure and intimacy are.
And just finally, as an aside, if you haven't had a medical check-up recently, it's worthwhile getting one. A change in libido can be a sign of an issue with your physical health, so have a chat about this with your GP at your next appointment.
Good luck! Angie
To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.