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Relationships 75    

                             July 2008

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


My Husband Binge Drinks


For all of our 32-year marriage my husband has been a binge drinker.
Over the years he worked away for long periods, coming home about once a month. Then there were periods of unemployment when we were together all the time. In his mid fifties I began to notice that when he came home he was always tired and much less interested in sex than before. When he was away he drank a bottle of red wine and a few beers every Friday night and this continued until he eventually changed his job and worked from home. Sadly our sex life petered out. The GP checked his hormone levels (normal) and prescribed him Cialis and Viagra. He wasn’t having erectile problems as such, more a complete lack of interest. Viagra et al only work if the man taking it actually wants to perform!

He reassured me that I was still “fanciable” and he still loved me but our sex life just ended. I took it personally and was really upset. What makes it worse is that we used to have a fantastic sex life together, though he was rarely able to be affectionate outside of that. He was a kind and considerate man but not demonstrative, so making love was the only time I got that level of warmth and attention. His binge drinking shuts me out and I feel deeply resentful of the hurt and rejection that brings. With no sex life there is no way we can draw closer once he is sober again.

I look at him drunk and passed out and I despise him utterly because he is oblivious and I’m fully conscious and hurting. I know he is often a kind and thoughtful person but the selfishness he shows when drunk and my own sexual frustration gnaw away at me. I’m beginning to feel bitter. Ironically I’ve retained my libido despite the menopause. I blame alcohol for my unhappiness as I’m sure that is the cause of his loss of desire.

What a long and frustrating road your marriage has taken. Here are a few questions you might usefully ask yourself: Do I still love my husband? Do I still want to save our marriage? Have I the strength to try another approach?
If the answer to any of these is ‘no’ then you need to tell him your intentions and seek a more rewarding life. If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’ then read on.

You mention your husband’s Friday night binges but no other drinking. Is it still the only time he drinks? And is it still a bottle of red and a few beers? It doesn’t somehow sound like quite enough to knock a man out. Either he is drinking a lot more than that (admittedly still too much for one man’s health), or he has a really compromised liver and shouldn’t be drinking at all!

Sometimes lack of desire is due to depression and loss of confidence, yet depression itself can be a symptom of an ailing liver. Alcohol causes direct damage to testicular cells and impairment of control centers in the brain leading to loss of libido, impotence, and sterility. Long term heavy drinking wreaks havoc in so many ways and an increase in atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, can impede the ability to gain and maintain an erection. Again, the embarrassment and perceived shame of this is likely to cause a further loss of confidence and lead to more drinking.

At the very least it would be good for him to go back to his GP. If neither Viagra or Cialis were effective the problem lies elsewhere, physically or emotionally. Your husband needs to ask for a check on his liver function, prostate, blood pressure and whatever else the doctor thinks appropriate. He needs to be totally honest with the doctor about his alcohol intake even if he feels he can’t admit it to you. As in counselling, doctors are easier to tell as they are neutral, not emotionally involved and totally discreet.

There are so many things that can play a part in loss of intimacy between a couple – even a loving one – and the first and most important thing to establish is dialogue. It sounds like you have this intermittently but no change occurs. However late in the day this seems, there is always a change brought about when a couple’s ‘information system’ alters. Although you might feel he won’t change the way he communicates, you have total control over what you say to him and how you say it. Always choose a time when he is not drinking or watching tv. You might feel he is no longer listening to you if he doesn’t respond, or ignores what you have said, but when he’s in the same room, or the same bed, it is hard not to hear what is being said, no matter how hard he tries to tune out.

Give him information that is neither accusatory nor critical, but about you; say how you feel, your worries, your fears, your appreciation of good times and your sadness over the not so good - or lost - times. Tell him what you miss, about the kind of life you used to share, about him and about what you would like to happen now and in the future. Missing sex will naturally be part of what you talk about and he’ll almost certainly be silently worrying about his loss of libido, so keep it short and about you. It is a really difficult thing for a man to acknowledge, especially to the person he loves and still finds ”fanciable”. His sense of failure will contribute to his ‘need to drink’.

If you feel he is actively listening you might feel you can ask if he agrees, or what his thoughts are, but don’t expect too much from this. He isn’t demonstrative and sounds remote and troubled. Either your information and gentle suggestions, offered in small ‘bite sized pieces’, will prompt him to respond, or it will quietly feed his private thoughts and guide him towards changing this self destructive behaviour which is losing him his marriage. You will have drawn closer with words, rather than sex.

You’ve tried to make things better and feel worn out by the struggle. If you can find the energy to try this approach you’ll know you’ve made a difference when he talks to his GP, or he acknowledges the part alcohol has played in the deterioration in your marriage and if he agrees to see a counsellor at Relate with you.

Relate could help you both in several ways. Couple counselling would help you both find a better way of being together, understand a little more how things got to the present situation, so that you are more ready to recognize the danger signs in future. If couple counselling helps strengthen your relationship then Relate Sex Therapy can have a very good effect for couples at any age. I thoroughly recommend it!

And what about you? Your married life has had long periods of loneliness in it. Have you got a good support system of friends or family around you? Make sure you have. It helps enormously to talk or let off steam with a trusted friend over a coffee now and then. Keep outside interests active so that you can go out and are refreshed by a change of scene, atmosphere and company now and then. A healthy relationship is one that is full of variety and tales to share.


 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.
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