Feeling Undesired at Home

I'm 43 years old, married for 19 years, with three children. I am beginning to wonder if my husband is no longer attracted to me. I'm five-foot-one, a size four and somewhat attractive. I notice men checking me out, and some have even told me I look 28! Yet the sex life with hubby is barely existent. He's been under stress the past few months, and I've always been supportive. Recently, I found a porn magazine of his, which upset me greatly. I was so unhappy that I had an affair. So now I am beginning to wonder if there is something wrong with me. Any advice? --iVillager ''D''

Question:

Dear D:

I read your story and felt a sinking feeling in my heart for your plight. Despite all good wishes for the contrary, research shows that sexual interest in a long-term relationship wanes over time. Your sexual flame needs a dose of kerosene, it seems to me.

Let's look at all the issues plaguing your marital bliss:

1. Long-term lovers: You've been married to the same guy for a long time, since early adulthood, and have three kids. A family takes time, money and energy to maintain, part of which may deplete his ability to give to you -- sexually and emotionally.

2. Attractiveness: You seem to be attractive and fit, which is excellent for your health and self-esteem. The feedback you are getting from other men tells you that your old sexiness is not dead, just asleep on the home front. That's not necessarily a ticket to roam.

3. Porn discovery: The lack of sexual interest from your hubby may be about him and not about you at all, reflecting the stress he feels rather than anything about his interest in or attractiveness to you. That said, finding a porn magazine may signal one or two possible messages: He's tired, tense and stressed and masturbates to alleviate some of those pressures, or he's genuinely lost interest in the one he loves. Only solid, open communication will tell you the truth about this. Porn may feel like a safe, easy and undemanding sexual release, which may be all that he's capable of doing right now.

4. Your affair: An affair is usually not the fix-it for marital troubles. Sometimes women use an affair to validate their appeal and find it to be a welcomed place for being touched, loved and lusted after. While an affair is never the solution for getting love or sex at home, if your affair has proven to you that you are still alive and attractive, I encourage you to use that information to renew the romance with the guy you share the bills (and kids and home and years of memories) with.

Here's what you can do for yourself: I suggest that each morning you look in the mirror and affirm the following at least 10 times daily for four weeks: ''I, (your name), am a sexy, attractive woman just the way I am.'' You may be surprised how good it makes you feel. Then talk all of this over with your partner, softly, nonjudgmentally and with the spirit of support. If this complex mess persists, seek counseling with a seasoned sexologist or couples' therapist (www.aasect.org or www.sexologist.org). You have to face up to what's not working and get on the mend.

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