Withholding Wife

Q: I've been married almost three years. When my wife was pregnant with our child, the doctor informed us of a condition that put a nix on any sex for the rest of the pregnancy. But our daughter is now 2 and our sex life has not returned. I've told my wife of my dissatisfaction and she agrees, but she doesn't seem to do anything about it. At night, she goes to sleep in record time and in the morning she doesn't want to be touched at all. Her idea of foreplay is scratching her back and massaging her neck, back, butt and legs, and that's it. I'm frustrated like no get out. My drive is as strong now as it's ever been, with no way to release it. How do I get her to show me attention more than once a month? -- Jimmy, 36

Dr. Susan: Couples are typically told that they can resume sexual relations in a matter of weeks after delivery of a baby. While the men are pleased and many women are, too, many couples need more time than that to come anywhere close to their former comfort level with intimacy. Lots of reasons for that, such as that the new mom is now tending to the needs of a demanding little third person in the family, she's tired, dad doesn't help enough and thus mom's resentment begins to build, and, not least of all, her physical and hormonal changes make closeness feel different.

To make progress, Jimmy, you're going to have to approach this as a couple problem, or better yet, a couple challenge. Get a sitter and go out for lunch or dinner with your wife, somewhere inexpensive and low-key. (The idea is not to have such delicate talks in bed or when you're already stressed or frustrated.) Above all, discuss what's going on for her, and leave your own drive on the back burner for a while. She already knows she's been letting you down and doesn't need specific reminding. Let her know you understand that making the adjustment after a pregnancy is often hard, especially for women whose bodies and lives have changed and whose hormones have gone through vast turmoil. Also let her know that you love her more than ever and want to know what the two of you can do to get close again. Lots of massaging and so on is a great idea for foreplay, unless it puts her to sleep. But if she's stopping you after what you're thinking is foreplay, what's up? (Besides you, I mean.) Is she sore, or is sex painful? Does she need something as easy as store-bought lubricant? Ask her if there's anything specific that's keeping her from giving intimacy a try. A medical check-up wouldn't hurt, with a full range of blood tests (thyroid and so on). Many women find that though it's difficult for them to transition from their busy days to saucy nights, once they actually surrender to their husband's attentions, their mood does change and both partners have a good time. Or it could be as simple as you doing a lot more of what's making her so tired, at least on date nights.

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